Perth may be more chance of gaining a team in Super League before 2023 than the NRL unless one of the current 16 clubs falls over or relocates to Western Australia’s capital.
After beating the NRL to the punch by playing a premiership fixture on the other side of the world, English officials have revealed there had been discussions about a Perth team joining the likes of Toronto, New York, London and Toulouse in an expanded Super League.
“We’ve got New York and a number of other areas very interested and there are whispers from Perth that they are interested because there is a direct flight now into London,” Wigan owner Ian Lenagan said.
The news coincides with a warning from NRL CEO Todd Greenberg last Thursday that the governing body would not bail out financially stricken clubs as the game had no significant cash reserves after lifting their annual grants to $12.4 million each.
In other words, any club hitting serious financial trouble would be allowed to fold in a move which could pave the way for the introduction of a new franchise or a relocated team.
However, the increase in grants to $198.4m per year means that is the only way expansion is likely to happen as the NRL would be unable to pay new teams the $12.4m each per year the current 16 clubs receive.
The size of the grants also make it unlikely that a club would collapse during the current five-year broadcast deal as they are now guaranteed 130 per cent of the salary cap, which is $9.4m this season and due to rise annually until 2022.
In addition, the NRL has introduced a $5.7m ceiling on football department spending to slow the annual 12% increase in costs on coaching and performance.
“They’ve now got enough money to sustain themselves so if they run smart, effective and efficient business models we should have 16 strong clubs,” Greenberg told reporters at a briefing ahead of the NRL’s AGM.
Expansion will again become a topic of conversation when Perth’s new state-of-the-art stadium hosts a double-header in the opening round of the Telstra Premiership next month.
There is no doubt the game is testing the waters in the west.
A Test was played in Perth at the end of the 2016 season and the city also hosted a World Cup double-header last year, while a State of Origin match is scheduled to be played at the new 60,000-seat stadium in 2019.
With Rugby Australia closing down the Western Force Super Rugby franchise, there is an opportunity for rugby league to fill the void but the NRL is in no hurry after the demise of the Perth Reds in 1997.
Recent comments in a Daily Telegraph interview by Peter Beattie, who is expected to be the new ARLC chairman, have generated excitement about expansion but the former Queensland premier indicated future NRL clubs should first enter the NSW or Queensland state competitions.
Ipswich Jets and Redcliffe Dolphins are two Queensland Cup clubs with NRL ambitions and broadcasters have indicated they would like a second Brisbane team.
However, plans for Perth to enter the NSW Cup are several years away, with officials first hoping to field an under 20s team in the SG Ball Cup next season.
In contrast to the NRL’s approach, England’s Rugby Football League is in the biggest expansion drive since the code began in 1895, with the Toronto Wolfpack and Toulouse Olympique playing in this season’s second-tier Championship.
A New York franchise is expected to enter the third-tier League One next year, as Toronto did in 2017, and those behind the bid have approached Salford Red Devils and Catalans Dragons about taking a Super League match to the US city on June 24.
The move follows the success of last Saturday night’s Super League fixture in Wollongong between Wigan Warriors and Hull FC, which drew a bigger crowd than the attendances for the three regular-season clashes between the clubs last season.
The NRL had previously considered opening the 2015 season in London with South Sydney Rabbitohs playing St George Illawarra Dragons as they were in the UK for the World Club Series but the time difference did not suit broadcasters.
While that problem remains, it is unlikely the NRL will play a Telstra Premiership fixture in Europe but there is now talk of more Super League games in Australia, with Perth a possible venue.
“I speak not just for Wigan and Hull but for St Helens and for Leeds and for many other clubs,” Lenagan said.
“World club rugby league could be massive. The Toronto owner David Argyle is a very successful businessman with a passion for rugby league and he is leading the way in many respects.
“The 12 Super League clubs met with him a week or so ago and there is no doubt the international dimension for rugby league is superb. He was saying Toronto’s local derby could be against London.”