NRL Expansion: Brisbane Tigers make their bid to be 18th team
ARL Chairman Peter V’landys says an 18th team could join the NRL by 2027 or 2028 – the Brisbane Tigers are ready to go earlier than that.
Rugby league’s expansion battle has intensified with the Brisbane Tigers launching a $25 million bid to be the NRL’s 18th team – and take on the AFL in a western-corridor war.
Brisbane Tigers officials have lodged an expression of interest with the NRL and they will formally announce their expansion bid on Wednesday when they unveil a $10 million stadium redevelopment.
ARL Commission boss Peter V’landys has said adding another team is “a matter of when, not if” as part of a beefed-up TV rights deal that could see an 18-team league by 2027 or 2028.
A Pasifika franchise, bankrolled by the Australian government and based full-time in Cairns in far north Queensland, is widely considered to be the frontline contender to win an 18th NRL licence.
But the Brisbane Tigers – one of rugby league’s oldest clubs with a 106-year history – want to emulate Queensland rivals Redcliffe Dolphins by stepping up to the big league.
Formerly known as Easts, the famous club were rebranded as the Brisbane Tigers in 2020 and they were behind the Firehawks bid which lost out to the Dolphins for the NRL’s 17th licence two years ago.
Now the Tigers are back with a fresh, beefed-up bid, either as a stand-alone entity or as part of a possible Pasifika joint-venture that could see a fifth Queensland NRL club based at Langlands Park in southeast Brisbane.
The Brisbane Tigers will parade their multimillion-dollar stadium upgrade on Wednesday and bid chief Shane Richardson said last month the Brisbane region was vast enough to sustain another NRL team.
“Queensland can have a fifth team, no question, but it can’t be in Cairns,” Richardson said.
“There is not the commercial backing, there’s not the set up and I’m sure the Cowboys wouldn’t enjoy another NRL team being in Cairns giving all the great work they do in that Townsville region.
“Cairns is not a viable option from a commercial point of view.
“If you were going to put an 18th team anywhere, it has to be based in Brisbane.”
The Brisbane consortium is open to a name change to avoid a clash with existing Sydney-based NRL joint-venture club Wests Tigers.
The Firehawks name is unlikely to be revisited.
And the Tigers, founded as Coorparoo in 1917, are prepared to spread their wings to Brisbane’s western corridor to counter the AFL, which has identified the sprawling region as a target market in their strategic plan for growth in Queensland.
The Dolphins have proved a resounding success and like Redcliffe, which boasts a $100 million empire, money is not an impediment for the Brisbane Tigers.
Their Easts Leagues Club at Coorparoo, 5km from Brisbane’s CBD, boasts $25 million in cash reserves and has a net-asset base in excess of $57 million, giving ARL Commission boss Peter V’landys comfort they would be a viable NRL operation.
Richardson says the Brisbane Tigers have the infrastructure to enter the NRL as early as 2026 and insists the success of the Dolphins is proof the code has the talent pool for 18 teams.
“The argument is there is not enough players and that’s just rubbish,” he said.
“Look at Isaiya Katoa (playmaking young gun) at the Dolphins.
“I have no doubt more expansion would be good for the game and growing the game has to be a strategic objective.
“Redcliffe have done a great job building with one year, but I’m sure they would have appreciated a two-year runway to come into the NRL.
“I think we could have an 18th team as soon as possible, I think 2026 is achievable, and then another two teams (to expand to a 20-team competition) can be phased in over a period of time.
“David Gallop (former NRL CEO) used to have a great saying, ‘Fish where the fish are’ and it’s so true.
“You have Papua New Guinea which is the only place in the world where rugby league is the No. 1 sport.
“You also have Queensland and there is no reason why another NRL team can’t come into Queensland.”