NRL expansion is once again in the news, with widespread debate over which teams should be added to the competition. While it is generally agreed that Sydney has enough teams, there are still more areas that would like to have a team than any proposed NRL expansion would have room for.
But what if, rather than adding new teams to the NRL, we combined the competition with the QLD and NSW cups and introduced a promotion-relegation system? There would still need to be a few new teams added to the second tier, and not enough room for every current Intrust premiership side. But a 16 team top tier competition and a theoretically unlimited second tier would allow NRL expansion to continue with relatively low risk.
To start with, the current NSW Cup teams that are from the same club as NRL teams would have to go. The Queensland Cup sides would also have to be reduced in number. From outside these states we could add teams from Perth, Adelaide, Tasmania, maybe Darwin and the South Island of New Zealand.
If we wanted to have a full 16 team competition for the second tier that leaves 11 spots to be filled by current NSW and Queensland Cup teams. Sydney already has enough teams, but we could put in the North Sydney Bears and/or Newtown Jets for nostalgia’s sake. Mounties and Wyong would both also be in. A country NSW side would also be worth considering.
From the Queensland Cup the PNG Hunters should be at the top of the list. The Ipswich Jets are also a popular side – although they would have to fight with Newtown for the name! There should also be another team, or preferably two, from Brisbane. The Cowboys already cover North Queensland pretty well, but the Central Queensland Capras would be good.
If these teams are included in a second tier completion then the heartland areas of rugby league are covered. There are also a number of NRL expansion projects. The promotion/relegation could work on a system of the four semi-finalists from tier two being promoted each year, with the bottom four NRL teams dropping down. This would provide a healthy amount of movement between the two competitions.
Promoted teams could also be guaranteed a year to find their feet in the NRL, to stop the same teams simply swapping places each year. This model for NRL expansion is relatively low risk and would expand overall viewing numbers for rugby league. It also allows for more teams to be added in a decade or so, once the new system is settled.