In a move that would change the NRL forever, the competition has the pitched the idea of a potential conference system.

League heavyweights reportedly met with clubs in recent weeks to discuss future plans, including expansion and most controversially, splitting the NRL into two conferences.

It would involve a Sydney and non-Sydney conference and eventually see two teams added – a second Brisbane side and 18th club – potentially in Perth or New Zealand.

Read more about the proposed conference system here and the Zero Tackle team’s reaction to it here.

The speculation has been met with a range of opinions from the wider NRL community, including fans, pundits and former players.

The majority of responses have been negative, with the most prolific objection being the fact that it would eliminate the possibility of all-Sydney grand finals.

It would see the top four teams from each conference advance to play in separate finals, meaning the furthest New South Wales teams could meet is in preliminary finals.

“Not a fan of the 2 conference system in NRL for many reasons but don’t like it as 2 Sydney teams cannot play in Grand Final as well as weakening 1 conference by putting the 2 new teams into 1 conference,” Wacko’s Whispers tweeted.

“The NRL conference system is the best sporting idea since soccer’s European Super League,” ABC’s Quentin Hull tweeted.

Of course, the proposed European Super League was met with such backlash from soccer fans that the idea was pulled within 24 hours.

Fox League’s Warren Smith highlighted that while innovation is good, he believes adopting conferences for the sake of it is not the way to go.

He explained why the NFL has conferences – detailing how the league was originally split as two separate organisations.

The Age’s Roy Ward is not totally opposed to the idea of conferences, but believes the model “needs more work” to get the desired outcome.

“This conference idea needs more work. Will the #NRL ban Sydney conference clubs from selling home games since they want all these all-Sydney games? How will it be fair to boost the number of longer road trips for Mel/Qld/NZ/Canberra sides? It won’t get the outcomes NRL wants,” Ward tweeted.

7News’ Chris Garry believes the model is “untenable” from a travel perspective.

“The more I think about the NRL conference system the more the unbalanced travel schedule makes it untenable – the NRL would have to give the expansion conference bye weeks or cap dispensation to make up for it. There are many benefits to conferences but geographically it’s hard,” he tweeted.

On the other side, rugby league legend and NSW coach Brad Fittler is a fan of the idea, with his only concern being the inability for Sydney clubs to meet in the grand final.

“I do like the idea that two Sydney teams can (currently) play each other in a grand final,” he told 2GB’s Wide World of Sports Radio.

“It wouldn’t be fair to think that you’d go into a season and at the end of the year Parramatta doesn’t have the ability to play Canterbury or a couple of those old rivalries that we’ve seen for years, Roosters and South Sydney.

“To start a season and know that they wouldn’t play in a grand final would do detriment to the game.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JULY 10: Blues coach Brad Fittler looks on during game three of the 2019 State of Origin series between the New South Wales Blues and the Queensland Maroons at ANZ Stadium on July 10, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Rugby league guru and commentator Phil Gould believes conferences are the way of the future and it can work in the NRL.

However, he stated it would need to be phased in and would take another five years to establish an 18th club.

“It needs to be phased in. I don’t think you can say by 2023 we’re going to have 18 teams. We just can’t get there by then,” Gould said on Wide World of Sports’ Six Tackles with Gus.

“We can certainly get one. It will take some hard work, they would have to commit now and there’d have to be negotiations around future salary caps. They haven’t even signed a free-to-air broadcast-rights partner yet, so they’re not sure how much money they’re going to have.

“You’ve got to invest in participation. It starts with participation at junior levels and then it goes çrepresentative programs and elite programs and providing a level of football to everyone to keep them in the game for as long as they can. Eventually, then, we have enough NRL players that we’ve always got a depth of talent and that clubs can build a culture and a chemistry of their own … That’s a lot of hard work. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s only a bit of elbow grease. It’s only time and effort and you’ve just got to put it in.

“If they’re wanting another team in New Zealand it’s going to take another five years to get that right. If it’s not New Zealand it’s somewhere else. There might be somewhere else they’re thinking about. But wherever that 18th team is, it has to be in place by 2026.”

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 28: Commentator Phil Gould during the round 7 NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and Parramatta Eels at McDonald Jones Stadium on April 28, 2019 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

NRL super coach Wayne Bennett also threw his support behind the idea, highlighting the exciting rivalries that would play out and commercial opportunities that would follow.

“It’s a great sale point,” Bennett told The Sydney Morning Herald.

“America does it in the Super Bowl. The biggest drawing final games we’ve had are when there are two Sydney teams. I went through it with the Dragons when we played the Tigers in the prelim. There was over 60 or 70,000 people there.

“The reality is the biggest crowds at finals times is when local teams play each other. They don’t get crowds when you get Brisbane or Melbourne against a Sydney team.

“The stupidity of it all is it’s always been about maximising the impact to the game. What they should want is rivalry and having the Tigers playing Parra home and away every year. A conference system guarantees it.”

Check out more NRL fan reactions below and let us know your thoughts in the comments.


  1. Terrible plan but let’s face it, the current administration hasn’t had a good one yet.
    They are killing the game and this would just about be the final nail in the NRL coffin.

Comments are closed.