IT IS ALL SYSTEMS GROW
As the NRL expansion race heats up, Broncos boss Dave Donaghy has spoken to PETER BADEL about Queensland’s looming new league rivalry
THE Brisbane Broncos have revealed an aggressive strategy to grow their reach across southeast Queensland as the NRL prepares to unveil a second team in the city. The ARLC is this week expected to name as the NRL’s 17th team either the Dolphins in Redcliffe, the Jets from Ipswich and the western corridor, or the Easts Tigers-backed Firehawks.
There have been concerns raised about what impact a new team could have on the Broncos and its fan base, but Brisbane boss Dave Donaghy said the club had been planning for expansion “for years”.
Central to that plan, he said, was to aggressively target the parts of southeast Queensland that miss out on the 17th licence. For instance, should the heavily-backed Redcliffebased Dolphins join the
NRL, the Broncos will invest heavily in the western corridor – in that case, already a region the AFL has targeted through a new $70 million training facility for the Brisbane Lions at Springfield.
In a revealing interview, Donaghy said he was determined to further enshrine the Broncos in the hearts of even more Queensland sporting fans – no matter what decision was made about expansion.
“We’ve got many members and fans in areas identified for expansion and we want them to keep supporting the Broncos, but if an area misses out, of course we’ll put plans in place to further grow our base there,” Donaghy said.
“Growing the game has always been part of the Broncos’ DNA, we were set up to be Brisbane’s team and
to engage with and inspire the community – and our team here has done a remarkable job at that in schools and clubs right across the city and beyond.”
Donaghy said his vision was for “every boy and girl that plays rugby league to want to be a Bronco”.
“We know not many will achieve that dream but just because you don’t play for the Broncos, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a lifelong relationship with our club,” he said.
“Our connection with our fans is so important; that relationship can provide the next-best thing to running on to the park with the team.”
Donaghy said he was confident the strength of the Broncos’ gargantuan brand would continue to reign supreme in Queensland, no matter the team that this week will be told they can enter the competition in 2023.
“Our sole focus is on us, not on anyone else,” Donaghy said.
“Ultimately, expansion is a decision for the Commission; it’s out of our control. But clearly the drums are beating, so if they (ARLC) press the go button, I say, bring it on.
“We have more than 30 years of history behind us, a large loyal fan, member and sponsor base and we’ll be fighting hard to not just maintain that, but to grow it considerably in all parts of the city and beyond – we’re incredibly well positioned for growth.”
Donaghy revealed the Broncos had been planning “for years” for the NRL to expand in southeast Queensland, and while “whoever a licence
may or may not be given to is up to the Commission” – “if the go button is pressed, we’re ready”.
“I can assure you from that point on, we won’t spend a further minute thinking about what others may or may not do – it will be about the Broncos delivering on our goals,” he said.
“We can only control what we can control, which means we will be focused solely on providing the best experience to those inside our club and those engaging with our club, at whatever level that may be. The
Broncos are a massive club and we’ll always be Brisbane’s club, no matter who may join the party.
“We love this city and the role we play in it. We’re committed to taking that to a whole new level in the coming years, too.
“The Broncos being strong means a strong league, you only need to look at the TV ratings for evidence of that. It benefits everyone.”
In fact, Donaghy said another team in southeast Queensland could add an exciting local derby-style tribalism that Brisbane NRL fans have not had since the demise of the Crushers in 1997.
“Suncorp Stadium is the best rugby league stadium in the world, we want it to be packed out for every local showdown with Queensland teams – whoever they may be – and we’ll be investing further into the experience to make it an even more exciting and world-class one for our members,” he said.
Donaghy also promised to doubledown on community engagement programs, saying that COVID restrictions on players had made it a challenge over the past year – but that would soon change.
“When we emerge post COVID, our players will be engaging more and more with the local community,” he said.
“That’s been really difficult to do over the past 18 months with bubbles and restrictions, but it’s incredibly important to our club, our players and to our fans.”
On the player front, the Broncos have 23 players coming off-contract over the next two seasons. From November 1, Broncos quartet Pat Carrigan, Jamayne Isaako, Herbie Farnworth and Corey Oates, all offcontract next year, can field formal offers.
The following season, rising young guns Selwyn Cobbo, Kobe Hetherington, Tom Flegler, Tesi Niu and Xavier Willison will be permitted to negotiate with other clubs.
But Donaghy says he is no more concerned about a new Brisbane team stealing playing talent from the Broncos as he is “any of the existing 15 clubs and other codes around the world”.
“Teams have been doing their best to steal our talent away for years now,” Donaghy said.
“We’ve invested considerably in this space as a result, we saw progress at the back end of last season and I’d like to think, with a big pre-season, we’ll continue to see that next year.
“We won’t be putting a ceiling on where this group can go.”
Donaghy said the Broncos’ academy program was “as good as any program in any sport around the world” – and noted that if there was an NRL draft the Broncos have already locked in through it the equivalent of five first-round draft picks each year for the next three or four years.
“Our responsibility is to ensure we’re making the right decisions at the right time with regards to our roster and our cap so we can continue to bring through generations of talent for years to come,” he said.
“In the short-term, we’ve prioritised leadership and experience to complement our elite young talent and we’re looking forward to guys like Adam Reynolds, Kurt Capewell and Ryan James joining the group for preseason.”
Ultimately, expansion is a decision for the Commission; it’s out of our control. But clearly the drums are beating, so if they (ARLC) press the go button, I say, bring it on. Dave Donaghy