ARL Commission chair Peter V’landys has urged the Brisbane Firehawks and Jets not to lose heart after revealing the Dolphins would be a test case for expansion to 18 teams.
“If it goes well, we would look at an 18th team reasonably quickly,” V’landys said.
“This expansionary move with the Dolphins will show us if adding extra teams gets us that growth that we desire.
We are agile, we will always do what is in the best interests of the game and if there is an appetite to keep growing the game, we will look at that scenario.
“The bid teams who missed out this time should not be too disheartened. They could absolutely be considered next time.”
While the Dolphins were celebrating on Wednesday morning
, the decision on expansion came as a sledgehammer blow to the NRL aspirations of both the Firehawks and Jets.
Both have spent time and money trying to convince the ARL Commission that they deserved the right to enter the NRL in 2023.
Ultimately, all that hard work came to nothing. However, there may be light at the end of the tunnel for crestfallen officials from the two bid teams as the game finds itself in the grips of expansion fever.
Like V’landys, NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo suggested another side may not be far away.
“The key thing for us is one step at a time,“ Abdo said.
“A move from 16 to 17 is a big move. We need to make sure that we have all the right procedures in place to make that successful.
“We want a team that can compete from day one and we want to make sure the team is financially viable.
“We want this to be incredibly successful. Equally we will have consideration to eventually moving from 17 to 18. I don’t know what that timeline looks like.
“That will be a factor of the success of the 17th team and a factor of which market is right, and whether the economics stack up.”
The advantages of 18 teams are obvious. While it would remove the bye each week, there would be an additional game to sell to broadcasters, which officials would expect to inject more money into the game.
V’landys and Abdo have both preached the importance of growth as a means not only to increase the game’s coffers, but also to ward off the AFL.
It means the addition of an 18th team is on the radar. The game’s existing broadcasting deal with Foxtel runs until the end of 2027, suggesting the logical time to add another side would be for the 2028 season.
“That would give us sufficient time to bed down the existing structures and make sure we have something really compelling for the next rights deal,” Abdo said.
“It may happen before that but that is certainly one milestone. But 17 is a natural stepping stone to 18. At 18 we have another fixture and that provides another opportunity for our fans, another 80 minutes of footy, another match in the round, another opportunity to grow fans in another market.
“I will go back to the quality of these three bids. Each of them could have justifiably probably qualified and been able to run a successful team.
“We are spoiled for choice. It always has to stack up.”
For the time being, V’landys and Abdo were happy to hail a landmark day for the game.
“I am very thrilled,” V’Landys said.
“I firmly believe in the growth of the game and we need to consolidate our existing markets before we expand anywhere else.
“It was ultra important to ensure the certainty of the Queensland market before we start looking at other areas
“There is a lot of competition up there from the AFL so we can‘t take that region for granted. We have to consolidate there first, Queensland and NSW are our key markets, then we will look for further growth.
“There could certainly be an 18th team in the coming years and let‘s see how this exercise goes.”