NRL expansion on life support
The NRL's plans to launch a second Brisbane team in 2023 are set to be put on ice as time runs out for Queensland to become home to the league's 17th club.
The Sunday Mail can reveal expansion has been put on the backburner following the COVID-19 pandemic which temporarily suspended the 2020 premiership season and forced the NRL to slash $50 million in annual costs.
The NRL is still at least months away from opening the bidding process for a new franchise - if it decides to do so at all.
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It was only a year ago that ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys declared his desire to see a second Brisbane club to rival the Broncos come to life.
However the massive financial and operational impact of COVID has taken a toll on the NRL since last March and delayed crucial research into the viability of another club.
The NRL is yet to commence a detailed study into the impact a new club will have on the competition, which will decide whether the league formally pursues expansion.
Given a 17th team will not generate a ninth game each round, it is unlikely to create any significant increase in broadcast revenue.
That remains a huge hurdle for the exercise, especially with club funding already stretched and the resistance of rival franchises to see their annual grants cut to accommodate another team.
The NRL's 16 current clubs will fight against having their $13 million handouts reduced to fund a new team.
The game's current broadcast deal with Channel 9 expires at the end of 2022, fuelling suggestions a new club would ideally enter the competition from 2023.
However time is running out for that to be the case and 2024 looms as a more realistic time frame if expansion goes ahead.
The NRL's youngest club, the Gold Coast Titans, were awarded the game's 16th licence in May 2005, giving them about 18 months to prepare for their first season in 2007.
That would be the minimum time the successful franchise needs to begin recruiting players and establishing a roster for their launch.
The expansion debate was one of the NRL's hottest topics on the eve of last year's season, with former CEO Todd Greenberg bullish about Queensland's hopes of securing a fourth club.
Bid teams started strengthening their plans to present to the NRL, with multiple options coming to light.
But within weeks the COVID-19 pandemic brought the country to standstill, forcing the suspension of the NRL season and massive financial issues.
V'landys, new CEO Andrew Abdo and the game's Project Apollo committee fought gallantly to relaunch the competition after a two-month hiatus, but the NRL suffered massive job losses and salary cuts after having to renegotiate a new broadcast deal.
A number of south east Queensland franchises remain hopeful of securing an NRL licence.
Among them are the Brisbane Bombers, Brisbane Firehawks (Easts Tigers), Western Corridor (Ipswich) and Redcliffe Dolphins.
The Dolphins have ramped up their plans in recent months, claiming they are "ready to go" and launching a campaign for the public to be involved in the naming of the club.
The club will retain the Dolphins moniker but remove the Redcliffe name if successful to appeal to a wider section of fans.
Dolphins bid chief Terry Reader said the franchise was ready to tender for a licence if the NRL decides to pursue expansion.
"We are in a very good position," he said.
"We have launched a website - Dolphins NRL - to cover everything about us and frequently asked questions.
"We have put out everything about how we will be set up, how it will work, where we will play. We have launched our own membership and merchandise range for the bid.
"We're meeting with the Brisbane and Sunshine Coast mayors in the coming months to talk about our plans as well as the Queensland Rugby League.
"We're making sure we're putting things in place and doing the things we need to so we're set to go when the time comes."
However Redcliffe's preparedness may not be enough as the NRL faces numerous hurdles to deliver Brisbane a new team.
Originally published as Brisbane blow: NRL expansion on life support