A Conference System for the NRL?

By Keith Whitelock

Last year the debate about how the NRL should be structured if at all was raging on the forum. One of the Posters Keith Whitelock had a very interesting idea using the conference system. So for this blog I have asked Keith to write a about and explain it in some more detail.

A Conference System for the NRL?

David Gallop has done nothing to distil the widely believed consensus that two new teams will be admitted into the NRL in 2013. This has triggered a flurry of activity from many areas keen to boost their local economy with a top tier rugby league team. In fact offers have either been fielded, or are in the making, from three different countries. The most serious bid (and more than likely a shoe in) comes from the Central Coast Bears(NSW). Other potential bids have come in from Central Queensland, South East Queensland, Wellington, Perth and even the country of Papua New Guinea.

Some of these bids are more advanced than others and each have their own positives and negatives. Your average rugby league fan would agree that each of these bids has merit and would offer something to the future of the NRL. However, only two can be admitted to take the total amount of teams up to 18.

There have been a total of 33 team since the Australian Rugby League competition started 101 years ago. Obviously gaining an average based of these sorts of statistics is extremely black and white. For arguments sake though, let’s derive our statistics in a black and white view. Not including the eight inaugural clubs that participated in rugby leagues inception year in 1908, a new club has been admitted just over every four years. Let’s be conservative and round that down to two new clubs every 10 years.

Fast forward to 2013; two new clubs have just been admitted. Is that the end of expansion in the NRL forever? Obviously not. As indicated in the last “cycle of expansion” in 2007 where Central Coast Bears and Wellington Orcas missed out in favour of Gold Coast Titans, regions usually persist with their bids in the hope of gaining entry in the future, or “next cycle”. Other viable bids will more than likely come up as the years go by. If each bid were to eventually be granted entry than the NRL would end up with 30+ teams.

Around the world when a sporting competition becomes too successful/ large for one sole competition they either become a conference system or split into multiple tiers; a relegation system. Geographically, competitions that span large areas (such as the USA) usually go with the conference system with smaller countries (such as Britain) going with the relegation system. To go by this theory and automatically put Australia in the larger area conference group would be ignorant to the uniqueness of the situation Australia finds itself in (a relatively low population with a large land mass).

Despite this uniqueness, the conference system is still the logical way to go. The obviously two conferences would be the NSW/ACT tier along with a tier consisting of the out of NSW/ACT team (in essence “the rest”) Needless to say, one can’t predict the future but below is a potential look at what a conference system would be like:

Conference One

Canberra Raiders
Central Coast Bears
Newcastle Knights
Illawarra Steelers
St George Dragons
Cronulla Sharks
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Eastern Suburbs Roosters
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Parramatta Eels
Penrith Panthers
Manly Sea Eagles
Western Suburbs Magpies (or Macarthur Magpies)
Balmain Tigers.

Conference Two

Brisbane Broncos
Melbourne Storm
North Queensland Cowboys
South East Queensland or Central Queensland (only one)
Gold Coast Titans
PNG Kumuls
Auckland Warriors
Wellington Orcas
Second Melbourne team
Adelaide Rams
Perth Reds

There is not a team on either list with a population of below 200,000 in the area they represent.

Each conference would go for 20 rounds with an emphasis put on traditional derbies to help with fiscal management. This would be followed by a 6 week finals series with home region advantage derived from rankings. The final series would be totally decentralised allowing a grand final to be played in any of a number of cities. A minimum stadium capacity of 50,000 would be required to host a grand final.

The depth in player number would need to be very strong for this system to be truly successful. However, this system is an option for Australasian rugby league at least 20 years from now thus player numbers and general population figures would be significantly higher. Current registered player numbers stand at just over 200,000 rugby league players in Australia (not including schools, Austag or Touch Football) along with over 150,000 in PNG. New Zealand is said to have around 25,000 although that number is hoped to increase with the recent restructuring of NZRL with an emphasis on the future (perhaps 100,000 registered players in 20 years). Non traditional player pools such as South Africa could also be tapped into to provide further depth.

Perhaps all of this sounds far-fetched, dreaming or simply unviable. With the certainty that expansion areas will keep knocking on the door, how less viable can it be than a 30 team competition?

Keith Whitelock’s email: keith_athome@yahoo.com.au
Daniel Andruczyk’s email: info@rugbyleagueinternationalscores.com
Rugby League International Scores Forum: http://rlsim.proboards76.com
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6 Responses to “A Conference System for the NRL?”

  1. Joel says:

    All good points, except I’d rather a CQ team and SE QLD team, instead of having 2 Melbourne teams, as that could probably just weaken the Storm.

    Also could maybe have just keep either Wests Tigers or the Illawarra/St G mergers, and add a Moreton Bay Dolphins or Sunshine Coast team. Redcliffe Dolphins just for current clubs in QLD, have the most juniors (at last check), although CQ NRL would have around 6,500 juniors.
    If it got to those teams than RL would be getting a massive TV deal, unless Gallop was in charger he’d sell it for cheaper still.


    “There have been a total of 33 team since the Australian Rugby League competition started 101 years ago.”

    I spose that doesn’t include, the BRL or NQLD teams and “ARL” stands for NSW clubs?

  2. sportsmad says:

    i think league in australiasia needs to be as decentralised as possible. this is why i would never have more than 4 QLD teams in total. i put “south east qld or central qld” for this reason. i wouldnt mind either of these bids.

    i used the term “australia rugby league competition” as i feel it sums up first grade rugby league in australia the most effectively. the statistics are for NSWRL, ARL and of course NRL.

    melbourne will overtake sydney in terms of population within the next 30-50 years. this is why i listed an audacious sydney team. then agian , how less audaciuous is it than a second Sydney AFL team?…

  3. Jarrod says:

    I like the idea of a conference system. It could be done quite easily now. All the Sydney and non Sydney teams could be split up with teams playing those in their own conference twice and those outside their conference once.

    I don’t think the kind of conference system that you suggested will ever be viable even in 100 years. Who knows what will happen in the future but I still don’t think the NRL can ever support about 30 teams. It would frustrate me not being able to know all the players in the competition. I also don’t think that there will ever be enough good players to support so many teams.

    So, yeah, I agree with the conference system because it increases the amount of traditional rivalries but I don’t agree with the way you have done it.

  4. “The depth in player number would need to be very strong for this system to be truly successful.”

    It could be argued that the player depth is already there for a conference system. There has to be about 100 + former NRL players playing in Super League. That’s about five 1st grade teams alone. Add other options you mentioned and it is very possible to do.

    Just comes down to Australia’s ability to sustain such a competition when currently clubs like Cronulla and Newcastle have financial issues and RL is in a dog fight with other codes for sponsors.

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