The Sunday Mail (Queensland)
A SECOND TO NONE IDEA
EXPANSION NEEDED FOR SAKE OF ORIGIN
THE former NRL strategy boss who investigated the merits of expansion says rugby league is ready for a second Brisbane team amid fears a failure to grow the sport could destroy State of Origin.
Shane Richardson, now spearheading the Brisbane Firehawks’ bid to join the NRL, has broken silence on the expansion debate, urging the ARL Commission to safeguard the future of State of Origin by adding a fourth Queensland team.
Ex-South Sydney chief executive Richardson spent 12 months as the NRL’s Head of Game Strategy, having specifically devised a blueprint on the code’s elite pathways and potential growth markets.
If anyone is qualified to assess the viability of expansion, it is Richardson, who says the time is now, stressing the importance of cultivating Queensland talent to prevent NSW dominating at Origin level.
The ARL Commission will make a decision on expansion by July and while some Sydney clubs are reluctant to see a second Brisbane team, Richardson insists the NRL cannot afford to lose a turf war against the AFL in Queensland.
“Brisbane is ready for another team. The game is ready for expansion, absolutely,” Richardson said.
“I was part of the NRL in 2015 and we did a comprehensive analysis of the demographics and where the best locations were (for expansion), myself and Andrew Fraser did a fair bit of work on it.
“We were looking at regions in Brisbane, New Zealand and Western Australia and we were getting excited about it all, but the ARL Commission was still fresh (after being created in 2012).
“Southeast Queensland is a hotbed for rugby league talent, but the key is you have to value-add. It’s important the new team doesn’t steal IP (Intellectual Property) from the Broncos or Titans.
“The performance of the Queensland teams at the moment is not a concern.
“If anything, another team means more opportunities for Queensland kids to stay home. The expansion team will develop and keep others on their toes.
“The Brisbane Broncos recently signed deals with three feeder clubs because they are wary of the expansion threat. A second Brisbane team helps Queensland in the State of Origin arena. It’s important we consider the benefits of expansion if we want Origin to remain healthy.”
Of the 480 full-time players in the NRL this season, just 102 are eligible for Queensland.
That’s a 21 per cent representation and Richardson believes a second Brisbane team in 2023 will help deliver more Queenslanders to the big league.
While the Maroons have traditionally punched above their weight in the code’s toughest arena, Queensland Rugby League board member Ben Ikin fears Origin could suffer if the game failed to grow in the Sunshine State.
It was Ikin’s very concerns that prompted ARL Commission boss Peter V’landys to get serious about introducing a second Brisbane team to co-exist with the Broncos.
“One of the reasons we are looking at expansion is because one of the QRL’s own directors, Ben Ikin, gave a presentation about it,” V’landys said.
“He said if we don’t look after participation in Queensland, we will not have a viable State of Origin in the future.
“He is 100 per cent correct. “Having a 17th team in Queensland encourages participation and that’s what will be considered when we look at another team in Brisbane.
“A few lopsided rounds in recent weeks has nothing to do with expansion.”
While Redcliffe and the Brisbane Jets are considered the main contenders for a 17th licence, Richardson urged the ARL Commission not to discount the credibility of the Firehawks bid.
“We don’t want to say too much publicly about the Firehawks because we think our bid will be revolutionary,” he said.
“The game has to expand in Brisbane. From a player numbers point of view, I don’t believe 17 teams will have a dramatic effect on player depth despite some concerns about that. The reality is if there is another team, it has to be strategically relevant.
“It has to bring dollars through television and free-to-air and Fox are very supportive of it.
“Just adding a 17th team for the sake of it is not a positive move, you have to do it to grow the game and I believe it will.”