NO TO EXPANSION: NRL strategy chief Shane Richardson has put a dampener on the Western Corridor NRL bid’s plans.
NO TO EXPANSION: NRL strategy chief Shane Richardson has put a dampener on the Western Corridor NRL bid’s plans. PAUL MILLER

Ipswich forced to wait as NRL expansion on hold for 3 years

NRL head of game strategy and development Shane Richardson has got it wrong.

That is the view of Western Corridor NRL bid chief Steve Johnson after Richardson said that the NRL wouldn't be considering expanding for at least the next three years after completing a nine-month review of the game.

The focus of the NRL appears to be on strengthening the financial stability of all current 16 clubs.

Johnson said future expansion was now "in great doubt" and may not ever be revisited in a meaningful way.

"Quite obviously we think they made the wrong decision," he said.

"It seems that the focus has shifted with the money coming into the game, so that they don't see the need to expand but instead will service the game's needs through the existing clubs.

"They will create second-tier opportunities in other regions without growing the top level of the game.

"That is as disappointing as it is frustrating because we are not catering for the modern structure of rugby league.

"We are relying on the structures put in place when it was a Sydney competition and slowly expanded, a 20-year-old model.

"The game has changed demographically and geographically in that time.

"It is very frustrating for the people of Queensland and putting us back to the model that we had before the Broncos in 1988.

"The Sydney-centric thinking of rugby league means that no-one is paying attention to 40% of the players here in Queensland.

"You can't service 40% of players with three Queensland teams

"While there are some good innovations about protecting young players, where you can't play NRL until the year you are 19 or have an agent until you are 17, the model is still based around relocating Queensland players.

"The best protection for young players is enabling them to play in their own back yard."

The Ipswich City Council has a training facility for an elite sporting team in the works in Springfield.

An arrangement with Brothers had also been struck by the bid team to utilise the outstanding training facilities at the club as a base in the initial years of an Ipswich NRL team's existence.

When expectations were high that expansion would occur in 2015, bid chief Steve Johnson secured a $1 million sponsorship with a major global company.

On the player front, six Ipswich Jets secured NRL deals for 2016 while Marmin Barba has linked with the ARU to play Sevens.

Johnson said clubs had regained a lot of control, with the blue chip clubs and financially at-risk clubs combining to get their way and a bigger cut of the money.

"One of the great difficulties of expanding is that the central power brokers are the clubs," he said.

"They are not going to look too far away from their own needs.

"That internal focus is understandable but expansion is an area the Commission needed to show stronger leadership about."

Leadership by both the NRL and Commission on the issue of expansion is something Johnson said had been missing.

Expansion bids have been kept in the dark and the NRL's pronouncements have been so vague as to leave the bid teams wondering what the game's plans are.

"We were never officially consulted about our thoughts around this decision.

"There was never a conversation. None of the Queensland expansion bids have been contacted to discuss the merits of their bids and what they bring to the table

"They have based this decision on information they have already got, not on information that they could have got. If you are serious about making commercial decisions and doing due diligence, don't you get all the information before you make that decision?"

Johnson said there was a contradiction in saying the quality of the product would be impacted by expansion, with the suggestion there weren't enough top players to field two extra sides, when the size of NRL rosters was set to increase from 25 to 30, plus six rookies.

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