The NRL has floated the possibility of a conference system in what would be the biggest shake-up in the competition’s 113-year history.
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo and chairman Peter V’landy met with a number of clubs in recent weeks to plot the game’s long-term vision, including expansion.
It is believed that one strategy considered would be to split the league into a Sydney and non-Sydney conference.
It would then eventually see the competition expand by two teams, including the introduction of a second Brisbane side in 2023 and an 18th club shortly after.
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New Zealand and Perth have been touted as potential locations for an 18th NRL license.
Another idea discussed between the league and clubs going hand in hand with the conferences is the prospect of playing three grand finals.
Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett backed the NRL’s direction with the aim of creating a better spectacle.
“It’s a great sale point,” Bennett said on Tuesday.
“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.”
It would likely see clubs play teams outside their conference just once, with the top four sides from each conference to play in seperate finals. This would rule out an all-Sydney grand final ever again.
That would also mean more travel for the non-Sydney clubs.
However, it would be a massive revenue win for the NRL and its broadcasters, particularly creating more buzz in Sydney and potentially lead to bigger crowds.
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