Sixteen Teams

The NRL's pending decision on the expansion to sixteen teams has raised discussion with regards to the merits of each competing region, as well as raising the possibility of relocating an existing team. Very few can deny that this expansion is needed, but it's make-up has been at the centre of some of the more in-depth discussion. The decision is made more difficult by the fact that there are three ?franchises? vying for the one position.

Each bid has it's own merits, and in a perfect world, positions would be made available for all three. Unfortunately though, the world's not perfect, so what is the best solution?

Wellington would have been in a very strong position if they were able to maintain their strong crowds, but instead, the crowds have declined to disappointing numbers for the most recent NRL matches held there. As a result, future sustainability needs to be questioned, but it's doubtful that Wellington will be able to provide the answers.

That leaves the two coasts ? Central Coast and Gold Coast. There's no denying that either of these areas need representation. They are two of the fastest growing areas in Australia, and they both happen to be in the midst of Rugby League heartlands. The Gold Coast has the geographical advantage of being a third QLD team - a factor giving their bid the edge in the view of many. But both areas have too much potential to overlook, so the NRL needs to find a way to include both. The only way to do that is by relocating an existing club.

This, however, creates a new debate, and a new set of issues, so the situation deserves analysis.

Many have suggested that the Melbourne Storm should relocate to the Gold Coast. Others argue that this would be a step backwards in more ways than one, with the obvious reasons being the impact that such a move would have on sponsorship and exposure for the NRL. It's common knowledge that the current arrangements with Telstra were made with Melbourne?s presence in mind. Critics also point to poor crowd figures, and the money that gets burnt up each year keeping them afloat. The simple fact though is that giving up on the Storm is inadvertently condemning the NRL into irrelevancy. Any ground that the NRL give up will be immediately consumed by competing codes, giving them the strength and position to eat away at our borders, sending Rugby League into decline.

The best analogy to describe the Storm is that they are like a little finger. On it's own, it's weak, but try keeping a firm grip without it.

The other option is the Rabbitohs. There's no doubt that they have a huge supporter base, but unfortunately, the change in local demographics over the years means that not enough of that support is local.

They're also competing with a very close and powerful neighbour in the Roosters. The Roosters have come along in leaps and bounds over the last few years, and the Rabbitohs will find it extremely difficult to come out from under their enormous shadow. It's like trying to run a corner shop next door to a shopping mall. The ultimate optimist must even have doubts about their ongoing viability. Many will argue that the Melbourne Storm face the same challenges in Melbourne, being up against the AFL. The Rabbitohs don't have the backing of News LTD though. Nor do they have a niche market, which if exploited properly, Melbourne would have.

Such a move shouldn't be forced though. It needs to be an initiative of the club itself, with the support of it's members and fans. Ideally, the Central Coast would be the best option due to it's proximity to their Sydney fans. Unfortunately, the local push for the Central Coast Bears puts up another obstacle. With powerbrokers such as John Singleton pushing for their own team, it creates problems. A compromise is a must in order to make such a relocation a welcome one.

Such a solution solves three problems. It allows the NRL to tap into two key growth areas - the Gold Coast and Central Coast - while maintaining a presence in Australia's second largest city. Of course the question remains - would such a move be too unsettling for a competition that is craving stability? Stability can be regained, which may not be the case for these two areas. We can?t afford to lose them.

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