Central Coast apply pressure

The Gold Coast might be the hot favourite to secure a possible 16th franchise in the NRL but the Central Coast consortium believes it represents true-blue rugby league heartland.

The Central Coast, Gold Coast and Wellington are locked in a battle to convince the NRL partnership, which meets on Monday to discuss expansion, that they should be granted a licence in the competition from 2006.

The Gold Coast Dolphins argue the region needs a team to stave off the threat of Australian Rules football while the Bears believe rugby union is making big in-roads into Gosford and the surrounding areas.

Russell Tate, part of the John Singleton-led Bears team, said the growth of Aussie Rules in south-east Queensland was a direct result of the influx of southerners into the glamour tourist strip.

"The threat of Aussie Rules on the Gold Coast exists because most of the people who have moved there are from Victoria or South Australia," Tate said.

"It's not a big deal. They're never going to follow rugby league anyway.

"We're going to have rugby league on the Central Coast anyway."

Rugby league has traditionally dominated in south-east Queensland but the rise of three-time AFL premiers, the Brisbane Lions, has NRL officials worried.

Tate was not afraid to discredit the Gold Coast bid, describing Carrara Stadium as "an absolute shambles" and pointing out the Dolphins had been reluctant to reveal their long-term business plan.

The Bears' major selling points are:

* Singleton financially underwriting the club, meaning only the advertising guru will be out of pocket if the Bears fail;

* a world-class facility in Gosford Stadium which seats over 20,000 fans;

* the region is one of the biggest junior rugby league nurseries in Australia.

Tate dismissed suggestions that the Bears' presence would impact negatively on the turnover of the Newcastle Knights, saying there was room to accommodate both teams.

"We will not be approaching any of their current or potential sponsors," said Tate, about competing for the marketing dollar with the Knights.

"Any talk of the Central Coast Bears impacting on Newcastle is rubbish."

Knights chief executive Ken Conway told AAP today the NRL partnership's market research showed Newcastle's home crowds would not be adversely affected by the Bears.

While it has given him comfort, he warned: "It didn't canvass the long-term effects on sponsorship."

Tate isn't worried about the Gold Coast's favouritism tag, believing the Bears will gain approval because its claims can't be ignored.

"If a decision's made in the right spirit based on what's best for the future of the game and it's made objectively without any hidden agenda ... then the Central Coast will get the nod," he said.

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