The NRL will consider granting existing clubs perpetual licenses on the condition that they follow the lead of the new Queensland franchise and agree to spend a mandated amount on growing the participation of the sport.
The Dolphins, Jets and Firehawks are vying for a 17th license to join the competition from 2023, with the Redcliffe-based Dolphins considered the favourites. The NRL will officially announce the successful bidder within the next fortnight, which would give them time to enter the playing market when players unsigned beyond next year become free agents on November 1.
The decision will be based on several criteria, one of which is the ability to increase interest and participation in rugby league without adversely affecting the Broncos, Cowboys or Titans. On this score, the Dolphins appear to have the inside running: their catchment area – which runs from northern Brisbane, through Moreton Bay and linking to the Sunshine Coast – has over 10,000 registered junior players. The Dolphins junior club alone has 50 teams and 800 registered players in an area that is predicted to further expand.
The three prospective franchises have been told that they must commit a minimum level of funding to junior development to qualify for a license to ensure growth at grassroots level. A similar discussion is set to commence with existing clubs, who have been in ongoing negotiations with head office in relation to perpetual licenses. The 16 current clubs all have licences until the end of 2023, which coincides with the end of the current free-to-air broadcast deal. Foxtel’s pay TV deal lasts until the end of 2027.
South Sydney chairman Nick Pappas has been leading the push on behalf of clubs to ensure they secure a permanent spot in the competition. The issue was raised at a meeting of club chairs and chief executives last week.
“That’s on the cards, absolutely,” ARLC chairman Peter V’landys said. “These are things we need to discuss with the clubs, if they have a perpetual license, and I expressed this [on Thursday], our focus is going to be on participation.
The Penrith Panthers are considered the gold standard in junior development.
“We’re one of the rare sports that has got every category – tip, tag and contact – so you can satisfy everybody.
“You don’t have to go and play at the elite levels to participate in our game. But once you participate, you become a rusted-on fan, an avid or engaged fan.
“The more people we get to participate, the more eyeballs we give to our broadcasters and the more revenue that generates.
“It’s important for us that clubs really focus on promotion and participation, particularly for women.
“They are all the things we will discuss with them. We want to give them perpetual licenses and the new franchise will certainly have those conditions on them.”
The Panthers are considered the gold standard in nurturing talent; they have tapped into a huge junior base in Penrith, coupled with a push into NSW’s central west, which has paid rich dividends. Many of the stars of the club’s grand final triumph can be considered homegrown.
The new Queensland team will need to be active in the player market to source NRL-ready players in time for the start of 2023. Coach Wayne Bennett and star players Cody Walker, Joseph Manu, Dylan Brown, Viliame Kikau, Clint Gutherson, Brandon Smith, Kalyn Ponga, Reed Mahoney and Dylan Edwards are expected to be targets.
However, it’s hoped that, once established, the new team will provide a pathway for local juniors to reach first grade.
“Come November 1, there are going to be a lot of players come off contract in 2023,” V’landys said. “A lot of those players may have been lost to the game, so in actual fact a lot of them will have their careers extended.
“Plus, some of them may not go over to England. It will give an opportunity to players who may not have otherwise been re-signed.
“There is a lot of them from November 1. To be fair, the new franchise has to be ready and going from November 1.”
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