September D-Day set for NRL’s 20-team expansion plans

Scott Bailey |

The NRL will this year outline plans to expand the competition to 20 teams within the next decade.
The NRL will this year outline plans to expand the competition to 20 teams within the next decade.

The NRL aims to reveal its master plan by the end of the season for a possible 20-team competition, as part of the sport’s most radical growth in decades.

League bosses met over several hours on Wednesday afternoon in Melbourne, opening the process for expansion over the next 10 years.

Consortiums representing possible expansion options will be able to submit expressions of interest to the NRL over the next month, before the league considers its options.

AAP has been told the goal is for a decision to be made by early September, with the first new team likely to enter the competition in 2027.

The increase to 20 teams, from 16 as recently as 2022, will represent the game’s biggest growth since the start of the Super League war, when four sides entered the Australian Rugby League in 1995.

Perth, Papua New Guinea and a second side in New Zealand remain the favourites to enter the competition.

The Perth bid is believed to have leapfrogged the federal government-supported PNG project to become the first to enter, in 2027.

PNG are the most likely option for 2028, allowing extra time for the infrastructure to be put in place for a side based in the capital Port Moresby.

A second New Zealand team is most likely to enter early in the next decade.

Dolphins run out for their first NRL match, in March 2023.
Officials for Perth’s NRL bid are working with the group that helped the Dolphins enter the comp. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)

Perth’s bid chief Peter Cumins and the Western Australian government’s representative Peter Tinley are in Sydney this week to work through their push.

Included in that are meetings with the Newtown Jets on Thursday and North Sydney Bears on Friday, as those clubs push to be possible partners in the enterprise.

While the preference from WA is to go it alone, there is a desire from the NRL to investigate the benefits of a partnership.

It is believed a Perth Bears or Jets outfit would be a winner for broadcasters and rival clubs, bringing old fans out of hibernation for TV ratings and ticket sales.

Any link with the Bears or Jets would provide a pathways boost for Perth, adding to the 4100 registered players in WA.

The state government is firmly behind the move, with a Perth NRL outfit to become a major tenant at the Venues West-owned HBF Park.

After meeting with Perth officials this week, former Parramatta coach Brad Arthur has emerged as a potential coaching option.

WA officials have pushed for a return to the NRL since the closure of the Perth Reds during the Super League war.

Wednesday’s decision gives them a much-needed boost, with the WA government working closely with the group who put together the successful bid by the Dolphins in 2021.