Warriors coach says no to New Zealand NRL expansion

Melissa Woods |

The Warriors are riding a massive wave of popularity in New Zealand.
The Warriors are riding a massive wave of popularity in New Zealand.

Warriors coach Andrew Webster is firmly against the NRL bringing in a second New Zealand franchise any time soon after bid teams emerged from Christchurch.

The popularity of the Warriors – eyeing a season of 14 sell-out home games – could see a second New Zealand team fast-tracked into the competition as early as 2026.

Spearheaded by ex-NRL boss David Moffat, the leading bid is the South Island Kea, who are pushing to join the Auckland-based Warriors and play out of Christchurch’s Te Kaha Stadium, which is set to open in April 2026.

Such is the soaring popularity of rugby league, New Zealand Rugby and SANZAR opted to play the Super Rugby Pacific semi-final between the Hurricanes and Chiefs in Wellington on Saturday afternoon, rather than clash with the Warriors and Melbourne Storm NRL match that night.

With a crowd of about 24,000 expected, the Warriors versus Storm match sold out three weeks ago, while entry to their round-17 Broncos home game sold out five weeks prior.

While not conceding the time change was to avoid going head to head with the Warriors, Super Rugby tournament director Matt Barlow acknowledged fans may wish to watch other sports.

“The finals schedule has some flexibility around time slots, so we looked at all sporting action taking place across the weekend to ensure we’re giving fans the opportunity to enjoy as much sport as possible,” Barlow said.

But Webster said he didn’t want to rush the NRL expansion in New Zealand and see the Warriors brand diluted.

Warriors coach Andrew Webster.
Warriors coach Andrew Webster doesn’t want the NRL to rush bringing in a second New Zealand side. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

The coach admitted some might find his stance “biased”.

Webster felt there was still work to do to cement the Warriors’ status in the traditional rugby stronghold.

“I really do hope that we keep one team in New Zealand for a lot longer, just keep making this product even better,” Webster told reporters on Tuesday.

“There’s certainly no complacency from us as a club, as players, or staff or anyone in the club that we’ve hit where we want to hit, so I’d like us to nail that first before we did that (expand).

“Not to say that it can’t happen one day.

“People would say I’m being biased and that I’m holding back the rest of the country, but I think it doesn’t matter where you are in New Zealand right now, they want to go home and watch the Warriors.

“I think the community, from the top of the country down to the bottom, is behind the Warriors, so I don’t know why we need to ruin that.”