The Courier-Mail

FRIDAY NIGHT RIGHTS

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Smith declared rugby league open for business in 2018 with 16 teams, and would not rule out expansion to as many as 18 clubs before 2022.

A third southeast Queensland club has been discussed between the NRL and its freeto-air broadcaste­r, Nine, with the possibilit­y of expansion agreed upon.

“The contract assumes 16 teams,’’ Smith said. ‘‘There have been good-faith discussion­s about whether we introduce a 17th team and there is potential within this contract to do that.

“If you do the modelling, typically what happens if you get 17 the costs would suggest you move to 18 anyway. We have built some flexibilit­y into (the contract with Nine).’’

Smith claimed for himself the mantle as the man to make league the No.1 footy code in Australia by navigating it through the current malaises of the clubs and the sport’s digital future.

“It needs a strong leader and hopefully I’ve demonstrat­ed I can do that,’’ he said.

“Three years into (the current broadcast deal), we are taking advantage of this massive opportunit­y for the game and I think you need to take a 10-year view of that.’’

League lovers have up to seven more years of the good and the not-so-good of Nine’s telecasts. There is the generally excellent TV pictures, for instance, but Queensland­ers also get possibly seven more years of Phil ‘‘Gus’’ Gould.

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