SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 15: Dragons players take to the field during the round 18 NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Wests Tigers at UOW Jubilee Oval on July 15, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

In the first of two What if Wednesdays prior to the resumption of the 2020 NRL season, we take a look at one of the most hotly debated topics in the game – expansion!

Every second-or-so season the topic resurfaces. Sometimes by the NRL brass, sometimes by someone involved with an expansion bid. No matter how it comes up it is always a heavily emotional debate.

Today we’re going to have a look at what would happen if two sides were approved for inclusion into the NRL today.

We could debate the two sides for literally weeks but for the purpose of this we’re going to assume Perth and either a second Brisbane side or the Central Coast are granted licences. We’ll call them Perth and the Bears so I’m not typing “Central Coast or second Brisbane team” 30 times.

What if the competition was expanded by two teams?

So here we are, congrats to Perth and the Bears. Two new teams, two new markets for expansion, and two new opportunities.

Firstly, both teams would need to wait at least two years for entry. I’d be looking at the 2023 season given the current circumstances. We don’t even know where we’ll land on a salary cap next year so I’d assume both teams would require at least two seasons to start signing players to contracts without worry.

Perth get the nod due to the obvious opportunities of a West Coast based team. I lived in Perth many years ago and had to search the deepest and darkest parts of the suburbs to find a TV in the most run down of pubs to catch a game.

I had to sit with myself and my girlfriend at the time (the poor soul) at the back of a dark pub on a non flat screen television to watch the Sharks cop a hiding. Meanwhile there were 10 televisions in the main area showing an AFL game between two Melbourne-based sides.

I can guarantee that times have changed and that the demand for Rugby League is at an all time high across the country now. I have friends based in Perth who say so combined with the fact that NRL games have recently been very well supported regardless of who is playing.

Let’s not kid ourselves though, Perth is valuable to the NRL for another reason, the TV time slot.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA – AUGUST 09: Spectators enjoy a kick on the park following the Rapid Rugby match between the Western Force and the Malaysia Valke at HBF Park on August 09, 2019 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

A 9:30 kick off in NSW or even at 8:30 kick off in QLD during Daylight savings is just too late for fans. Yet a 7:30 (or 6:30 during Daylight savings) in Perth is absolutely perfect.

That later time slot is a goldmine to both Channel 9 and Foxtel being that the later the game, the bigger the audience. Of course this wouldn’t be the case for a midnight kickoff, but there’s a reason that Origin creeps closer to a 8:30 kick off each year.

As for the second team, the Bears, a second Brisbane team makes the most sense, while the Central Coast is the most romantic.

Either way, it creates another game each round of product, making the game more valuable to broadcasters. I can’t see it happening but there’s even a chance of a Channel 7 or 10 coming in for a game or two a round. Split broadcasters on FTA haven’t been a thing since the AFL deals of the past, however a one off, Saturday evening game could be worth a look.

The extra venue would go a long way to offsetting the increased expenses created as a result of the two extra teams. The Perth trip would be taxing, especially for the Warriors, although only the Perth side would be required to travel the distance regularly.

The extra travel may play a part in players decisions when it comes to signing for the new club, however the Perth Glory have proven its an obstacle that can be overcome.

In terms of the players, it’s nothing but a positive. It creates 60 more “top 30” roster spots meaning those players on the brink of an NRL contract would have a far greater opportunity.

Players at the end of their careers wouldn’t have to look to England quite so much, although the average age of those moving to the Super League is decreasing each year.

It would create two more head coaching opportunities, as well as support staff, admin staff etc. There are plenty of talented people in the game right now looking for work.

Although it must be said that the two new rosters would create a strain on the NRL-ready talent pool.

I could probably name 20 or so players in the NSW/QLD Cup who could walk into an NRL roster tomorrow, however finding 60 may be tough.

One thing is for certain, we’d see some crazy contracts. A player off contract in two/three seasons could be signed on a million a year to be the club’s marquee signing. For instance can you imagine Perth signing Bronson Xerri for 2023.

He’d be in the peak years of his career and arguably a NSW Origin centre by then. Or he could suffer an injury, or even fail to develop as promised and arrive an 800k risk gone wrong.

Existing NRL clubs would have to offer monster deals to fight off blank chequebooks from the new clubs.

It would be fun but it would be chaos.

I’d probably enroll in an NRL player manager accreditation tomorrow given the opportunities.

Of course we could discuss the expansion pros and cons for many many hours, however the main points are summarised below.

Verdict:

– Increased broadcast revenue for the NRL due to an extra game a round and a bi-weekly valuable time slot created as a result of Perth’s admission
– Two new league markets to target for lapsed, re-settled or perhaps even new fans
– A strain on the player talent pool
– More opportunity for elite NSW/QLD Cup players for first grade spots
– More opportunity for players to earn a living overall
– Big increase in travel and operating expenses although largely offset as a result of new time slot

Overall, I think expansion would benefit the game, however given the uncertainty of the world as it is right now, we’re at least five years away from a genuine chance of this happening.