NRL expansion teams warned: 'Any leaks and you’re out'
NRL authorities have sensationally warned the three consortia bidding for a second Brisbane licence they will be kicked out of the expansion race if they leak confidential information to media outlets.
Sport Confidential can reveal bid rivals the Brisbane Firehawks, Jets and Dolphins have been put on notice by ARL Commission boss Peter V'landys and NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo as the battle begins to become the NRL's 17th team in 2023.
Watch The 2021 NRL Telstra Premiership Live & On-Demand with No Ad-Breaks During Play. New to Kayo? Try 14-Days Free Now >
The NRL formally issued expressions of interest this week with the three prospective NRL franchises given a secret code to access a data room to lodge their bid documents.
As part of the process, the NRL has issued strict instructions to Firehawks, Jets and Dolphins bosses, warning they risk expulsion from the bid process if any sensitive high-level information is leaked to the rugby league media.
Fearful of NRL sanctions, the Firehawks have cancelled a planned bid launch to ensure they do not get offside with V'landys and Abdo.
Given the world of rugby league has more leaks than the Titanic, NRL bosses have their work cut out zipping the lips of the three bid teams, who have until June to finalise their submissions for NRL admission.
Some figureheads from the bid teams have sought personal meetings with V'landys in recent months but the ARLC chairman has kept at arm's length in a bid to ensure the expansion race is run with integrity and transparency.
NRL'S BUNDY BEARS?
Souths super coach Wayne Bennett has urged the NRL to consider putting a fifth Queensland team in Bundaberg.
As revealed by News Corp, ARL Commission boss Peter V'landys is open to starting up a fifth club in the Sunshine State if the NRL expands to 18 teams for the next broadcast cycle from 2027 and beyond.
The NRL will also look at a second team in New Zealand, but Broncos foundation coach Bennett believes Bundaberg, 380km north of Brisbane with a population of 70,000, would be an ideal location for a fifth Queensland team.
"I don't think people realise how many successful people and organisations there are in Bundaberg," Bennett said.
"Bundaberg is the forgotten place of Queensland. It is four hours from Brisbane, it is a big city now and could sustain at NRL team. It would be worth a look at.
"From the Bundaberg rum company to the cane farmers and fruit and vegetables growers, it's a huge area with thriving industry.
"I don't think we could have a third team in Brisbane. The Titans are an hour's drive away from Brisbane so they are on the doorstep of two Brisbane teams. A fourth team in Brisbane would be a bit saturated.
"The demographics of Bundaberg or even Rockhampton would stack up for a fifth Queensland team."
BRONCOS REJECT STORM SENSATION
The Brisbane Broncos passed on the opportunity to pursue Melbourne Storm sensation Jahrome Hughes.
The Broncos were sounded out about their interest in signing Hughes earlier this year after the New Zealand international identified Brisbane as a club he was interested in playing for.
Hughes wanted his future sorted before the 2021 season kicked off, but the Broncos were not in a position to discuss contracts given they were still assessing Tom Dearden's future.
Hughes received huge interest from the Warriors, but was reluctant to move to New Zealand and eventually re-signed with Melbourne for significantly less money.
He has since gone on to become the NRL's in-form halfback and has been dominating for the Storm in recent weeks.
Hughes, 26, was looking for around $800,000-a-year to join the Broncos, similar to what Brisbane has paid to sign South Sydney's Adam Reynolds, who turns 31 in July.
The Broncos turned to pursuing Reynolds after losing faith in Dearden, who signed with the Cowboys, and the Hughes ship had already sailed.
A key factor in Reynolds' decision to join the Broncos is his desire to mentor several Brisbane players including strike weapon Kotoni Staggs.
Staggs signed a four-year upgrade a fortnight ago and as part of his decision to stay loyal, the Tongan Test star outlined his desire to move from centre to five-eighth to kickstart Brisbane's attack.
As part of that plan, the Broncos knew they needed a senior halfback to help Staggs in his positional transition and that's where Reynolds comes in.
The Souths maestro was impressed by Brisbane coach Kevin Walters' pitch for his Red Hill rebuild and Reynolds made it clear he was keen to help develop Staggs' playmaking ability.
Reynolds was also keen to work alongside Broncos prop Payne Haas, rating him one of the best emerging forwards in the game.
Walters has big plans for Reynolds. He has been offered the Broncos captaincy and with current skipper Alex Glenn tipped to retire at season's end, Reynolds could join club legends Darren Lockyer, Gorden Tallis and Allan Langer as a Brisbane leader of men.
BRONCOS CIRCLE VUNIVALU
Brisbane are eyeing off troubled Queensland Reds winger Suliasi Vunivalu as the Broncos scour the market for wing options following Xavier Coates' defection to the Melbourne Storm.
Coates' move to Melbourne next season has opened up a spot on Brisbane's flank and coach Kevin Walters could ironically turn to a former Storm player in Vunivalu to fill his backline vacancy.
Sport Confidential understands Brisbane recruitment chiefs have discussed Vunivalu and identified him as one of several wing options to replace the Storm-bound Coates.
The 25-year-old was a smash hit in the NRL, scoring 86 tries in 111 games, but Vunivalu embarked on a new chapter six months when he signed with Rugby Australia and the Reds following the Storm's 2020 premiership win.
The move to rugby has been turbulent for Vunivalu, who missed the Reds' season-opener in February after being stood down and fined $10,000 for clashing with a bouncer at a Brisbane venue.
The Reds recruit has been ordered to have mediation with the security guard after his case was mentioned in a Brisbane court on Monday.
One major impediment for the Broncos is Vunivalu's employers Rugby Australia and the Reds.
It is understood his deal in rugby is worth more than $700,000 and the Reds are reluctant to release Vunivalu, who is contracted until the end of next season.
Despite Vunivalu's recent troubles, the Reds are backing the winger with a view to turning him into a Test matchwinner with the Wallabies.
The Reds insist Vunivalu is happy in rugby union, but if he ever sought a return to the NRL, the Broncos would welcome him with open arms at the right price.
BRENNAN DROPS MAL BOMBSHELL
Former Titans coach Garth Brennan has offered a stunning insight into his Gold Coast sacking and relationship breakdown with culture chief Mal Meninga.
Brennan has mostly laid low since his departure from the Titans in 2019, returning to Newcastle to coach lower grades and work in real estate.
But he gave a rare glimpse into his controversial Titans exit in a podcast called Toohey's News this week.
Brennan said the Titans had a lot of issues when he replaced Neil Henry ahead of the 2018 season.
"It was a tough gig, when I arrived they had no junior pathways systems which was astounding," he said.
"You're talking about the southeast Queensland to northern NSW catchment area and there's nothing from the Knights up to the Gold Coast.
"It was hard for the club because they'd gone broke and the NRL was in charge. They had no direction until there was ownership put in place.
"I knew it was going to take time. Unfortunately I was only given 18 months, which was something I can't control, and the biggest disappointment out of all of it to be honest."
Immortal Meninga joined the Titans in late 2018 as performance and culture chief and was tasked with reviewing why the club was hurtling towards the 2019 wooden spoon.
"I never spoke to Mal as far as a review goes," Brennan said.
"I haven't spoken to Mal since a week before the last game I coached.
"I've heard so many different versions from different people.
"I wasn't getting the results the owners wanted and as a coach you live and die by that.
"In saying that, I was hoping to have more time to bring through some of the kids I had started to develop in the likes of AJ Brimson, Moe Fotuaika and Jai Arrow, a local I would have never let go because he is an outstanding player."
CHERRY ON TOP FOR SUNCORP
As Maroons Origin skipper, Daly Cherry-Evans has a special affinity with Suncorp Stadium and the home of Queensland rugby league will take on an extra dimension in this weekend's Magic Round.
When Cherry-Evans leads Manly out against the Broncos on Friday night, a select group of fans will enjoy the ultimate viewing experience via a specially constructed Ampol Deck for the gala three-day event at Suncorp.
There will be luxury seating plus a fully-serviced bar in an outdoor-deck experience and Cherry-Evans has pledged to provide a spectacle by unleashing in-form Manly fullback Tom Trbojevic.
"There is really no bad seat at Suncorp but the Ampol deck gives fans a special service where they will get to watch the games from a more luxurious area," said Ampol ambassador Cherry-Evans.
"Hopefully I will score a try and I will try to kick the ball onto the Ampol Deck.
"I love playing Origin games at Suncorp and it will be no different for the Magic Round."
Cherry-Evans hopes to return to Suncorp on June 27 for State of Origin II and the Maroons captain made a surprise admission - he has never met new Queensland coach Paul Green.
"I don't know Paul Green well at all," Cherry-Evans said.
"He has obviously coached against me and I've played against sides that he has coached. I am looking forward to meeting Paul for the Origin series.
"I don't know much about him as a person but he has had success as an NRL coach, winning a premiership at the Cowboys (in 2015), so I'm sure he is really excited to get hold of this Queensland side and have some success as well.
"I would love to partner up with 'Greeny' and be able to achieve something special for Queensland."
PAT THE PRO
Broncos ironman Pat Carrigan is the ultimate professional. Carrigan snapped his ACL in last Saturday's loss to the Cowboys and within days, the Broncos lock hopped straight into his rehabilitation plan.
Carrigan has already spoken to Queensland Origin prop Christian Welch for tips on recovering from major knee surgery. He has also ordered two months' worth of healthy meals for the long days spent on his couch resting his knee.
SMITH ENTERS WORKFORCE
Retired NRL legend Cameron Smith has made his first major off-field career move since hanging up the boots.
Smith, who is living on the Gold Coast, has joined leading sports broadcaster SEN and will appear on a number of radio shows.
"I have always been interested in radio and SEN's plans for Queensland are very exciting," Smith said.
"Co-hosting a show each week is something I'm looking forward to, as well as jumping on different shows across QLD and NSW and chatting with all of the listeners."
With three NRL premierships and 11 State of Origin series wins, Smith is the most decorated rugby league player of all time.
FIFITA DODGES CAMERAS AGAIN
There was a silver lining for Gold Coast Titans star David Fifita after he copped a two-match ban at the judiciary this week - he got to skip media commitments again.
The Titans failed in their bid to have Fifita's grade two careless high tackle charge downgraded at the judiciary on Tuesday night.
He will miss Sunday's Magic Round game against the unbeaten Panthers as well as next weekend's clash against lowly Canterbury at Cbus Super Stadium, a must-win game for the Titans.
Fifita was scheduled to do his first press conference of the season on Wednesday given all 17 players named this week had to face media as per the NRL's guidelines.
But Fifita was a late withdrawal from the media event after being suspended.
The Titans have kept Fifita away from the traditional media this year for 10 rounds now, believing he is not equipped to face the cameras despite his $1.2 million-a-season salary.
LEAGUE LEGENDS SPECIAL TOUR
Queensland legends Mal Meninga, Johnathan Thurston and Wally Lewis are taking league fans behind the scenes to show them what makes State of Origin so special.
The Maroons greats are conducting a series of events called The Open Air Boardroom at Suncorp Stadium over the coming months.
Fans will get the opportunity to get an intimate understanding of what goes on in the lead-up to and throughout an Origin game.
Thurston is kicking off the functions on June 15 and 16 where he will host guests for lunch and talk about his remarkable career.
The guests will tour the Suncorp dressing rooms and learn about what made Thurston one of Origin's greatest ever performers.
More information on the events can be found at www.majoreventscompany.com
Australian heavyweight champion Justis Huni has mapped out a hectic fight schedule as he prepares for his June 16 bout against former NRL star Paul Gallen.
Sport Confidential can reveal Huni has five fights lined up for the rest of this year, punctuated by his return to the amateurs when he heads to Tokyo for his crack at gold-medal glory at the 2021 Olympics.
Huni will fight Christian Tsoye on May 26 before taking on Gallen at Sydney's International Convention Centre. If he beats Gallen, Huni will become world-ranked by the IBF before his trip to Japan in July for the Olympics.
When he returns home, Huni will fight Willis Meehan in September and Junior Fa or Hemi Ahio in October before a Christmas showdown with unbeaten Australian heavyweight Demsey McKean, who boasts a formidable 18-0 record with 12 knockouts.
"It's not a rushed schedule at all," his promoter Dean Lonergan said. "Justis is used to a punishing schedule in the amateurs, the message I've got from his dad and trainer Rocky is you line them up and Justis will knock them down.
"I'd like to have Justis fight Demsey McKean before Christmas this year. That would possibly be Justis' last domestic fight before he looks to fight internationally in a market like the UK."
For VIP Ringside ticket packages for the Huni-Gallen fight with food and drinks included, call Dynamic Sports Marketing on 1300 660 509 or go to www.boxingpackages.com.au.
Originally published as Expansion teams warned: Any leaks and you're out