General The future of the NRL


Where to for the Sharks?

Last week the NRL decided to block any funding plans for the Sharks to move five of their matches to the Central Coast. I have been a long-time critic of David Gallop, but in this instance he made the right decision not to deem it as a relocation move.
The Sharks are at the cross-roads and have had to endure nightmare after nightmare this season. They are currently sitting last on the premiership table, and are being rocked by the sex scandal involving Matthew Johns and several un-named Sharks players from 2002 when they played a trial match in New Zealand.
However, the biggest issue for the Sharks is where will they be located in the coming years - if anywhere.
Is Central Coast really a worthwhile expansion option for clubs to relocate to, or even for a new NRL franchise?
The people of the Central Coast firmly voted with their feet on Monday night when the Sydney Roosters moved their home match against Melbourne to Gosford. With the hype about the proposed Bears application and their new logo - the general public had the opportunity to build momentum for the bid and they failed to show up.
When the Gold Coast was looking to field an NRL team prior to their entry in 2006, each game that was held at the run down Cararra Stadium attracted huge attendances and the public got right behind the Titans’ bid.
Cronulla’s future in the Shire is very bleak and the Shire is an area that is changing to be more like Kings Cross by the Beach and not really an area that is going to be booming with new families in the future.
The Shire is also a very isolated area and the Sharks suffer greatly from not having a strong identity away from the Cronulla-Sutherland area. Much of that can be attributed to the lack of premiership success, but the culture and isolation of the area plays much to that.
The Sharks unfortunately are doomed in the cut throat Sydney market as they are surrounded by powerful Sydney clubs the Dragons and Bulldogs, both of whom have well known brands that reach beyond their local areas.
The Dragons’ Red Vee represents so much successful tradition in the game that saw the great St George side win 11 successive premierships and the Bulldogs, who are the most successful club of the last 30 years, are fortunate to be bankrolled by a financially strong licensed club.
Where should Cronulla look to move into the future?
The gold mine in Rugby League is most certainly in Queensland with Central Queensland already putting in a submission to field an NRL side on a full-time basis and the Ipswich and Sunshine Coast areas have expressed their interest in fielding an NRL side.
The Brisbane market can certainly field two sides with Suncorp Stadium the best venue in Rugby League and not to mention that Redcliffe, Cabolture, Moreton Bay and Strathpine areas are all booming areas north of Brisbane with the highly successful Redcliffe Leagues Club in the past looking at NRL options - stretching back to 1986.
The South Australian State Government has also looked at the possibility of supporting an NRL side based in Adelaide, but the risks of venturing beyond the eastern seaboard continues to be too large in the current financial climate.
A move to Queensland offers the Sharks just the escape they need to keep their Sharkies brand and escape the cut throat Sydney market.
The Central Coast had a chance with the Northern Eagles, but instead of rallying for the side to be permanently based in Gosford the public drove the ‘franchise’ back to Brookvale Oval and back under the name of Manly-Warringah.
It’s a shame for North Sydney as they feel to this day they were unfairly treated in 1999 and extreme mismanagement killed the club so suddenly, but like Cronulla a lack of premiership success did isolate the Bears into a very small market.
The Central Coast shouldn’t be looked at as a possible NRL expansion area until the Newcastle Knights are 100% financially stable and progressing strongly. The Knights made a $1 million turnaround in the last 12 months and that is encouraging, but to have a side based in between Newcastle and Sydney could be potentially damaging for the Knights and the Newcastle region is one of the proudest Rugby League areas.
The primary investment should be into the Knights before placing a team nearby on the Central Coast.
Queensland on the other hand is fast shaping up as the home of Rugby League. Consolidate Rugby League’s strength north of Tweed Heads; that’s where the NRL’s next expansion targets should be.
I’m a supporter of 18 teams in a national wide competition, which includes possible teams in Papua New Guinea and a second side in New Zealand down the track, but the NRL must expand into areas of strength and Queensland is most certainly that.
The Sharks have to bite the bullet and rebuild their shattered brandname as unfortunately for them they don’t have a culture of success, a fistful of dollars or support outside of the Shire in Sydney to fall back on to remain where they are.
In fact, two Queensland sides, Adelaide, Perth, PNG and a second New Zealand side should all be considered before the Central Coast, as reach into new markets is of greater importance.



The New Zealand Warriors have won just three of their 10 visits to Cronulla, but never have their National Rugby League (NRL) hosts been in such a state.
Tipped as NRL contenders pre-season after they, like the Warriors, made the final four last year, it's been a season from hell for the men from 'The Shire'.
There was at least some respite with last Saturday's dour 13-10 win over Parramatta, which halted the Sharks' losing streak at nine matches and a remarkable 77 days.
It even prompted some humour, with stand-in captain Trent Barrett admitting he forgot the words when summoned to lead the team song, Up, Up Cronulla, in the dressing sheds.
"I've only sung it once," he deadpanned, in reference to their season-opening 18-10 win over Penrith.
Since then, it's been Down, Down Cronulla as they were hit by a series of hammer blows, which would bring tears to most club chief executives' eyes:
• The ABC's Four Corners documentary in which a New Zealand woman said she became suicidal after a group sex session involving up to six Sharks players in Christchurch in 2002.
• Major sponsor LG Electronics ended their nine-year association with the club, valued at $A700,000 (NZ$886,000) per season, after the documentary and recent alcohol-related incidents.
• The financial woes worsened, as the Sharks reportedly faced a A$1.4 million loss, a A$2 million bank overdraft and over A$12 million in short-term debt, still to be refinanced, after the club refused to take up a A$10 million offer from the NRL in 2005 to relocate to Gosford.
• Former Sharks community liaison officer Jenny Hall was reportedly paid A$20,000 by the club after she was accidentally hit in the face by Sharks chief executive Tony Zappia last year.
• Star recruit Reni Maitua tested positive to banned steroid Clenbuterol and faced a two-year ban.
• Captain Paul Gallen was fined A$10,000 by the NRL for calling the Dragons' Mickey Paea a "black c. . .". He issued a public apology and resigned the captaincy.
• Under-fire Sharks board chairman Barry Pierce resigned this week after 10 years at the helm.
You get the picture.
A drained Sharks coach Ricky Stuart labelled their breakthrough win "a great relief" and hailed the spirit in his team of rookies, most of whom will back up to face the Warriors at Toyota Park on Sunday afternoon.
"We had a total of 18 games between seven of our players. That's an amazing stat," Stuart said.
"You go and have that in any other football club in this competition and I promise you they wouldn't be in as high spirits and they wouldn't have won that game. " Stuart named a near unchanged side this week, including halfback Scott Porter who took time out from his lawnmowing business to play a starring role on debut against the Eels.
Gallen, ruled out of State of Origin with a shoulder injury, was named to start at lock pending a fitness test.
Barrett insisted former Kangaroos coach Stuart had kept the club from collapsing.
"We've been to hell and back, and hopefully this is the week we turn the corner and keep going forward and we can focus on the footy," Barrett said.
"He (Stuart) won't mind me saying that if we had a different coach, or a coach with not as strong a personality, the whole joint would've fallen apart. " Recent history is against the Warriors, who have lost three of their last four visits to Cronulla, including an 8-24 defeat last season.



A FORMER Cronulla official has told of a $10 million 2005 offer to relocate to the Central Coast as the NRL revealed it would still be willing to pay more than $8 million for two Sydney clubs to merge.

In this morning's Rugby League Week, League chief executive David Gallop says the incentives which created Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra were still on the table - adding more intrigue to the Sharks' desperate battle for survival.

The Shire club has had another dramatic week with their involvement in the ABC Four Corners program on Monday night.

Now they could be forced to look for a joint venture partner. Asked if the league was still willing to fund mergers, Gallop told RLW: "We are willing to listen to any proposal that is put to us.''

Asked if there was still $8 million available, Gallop said: "We have said before that that figure is quite old and we would be willing to listen (to a request for more).''

Ex-Sharks football manager Theo Burgess told the magazine: "The writing was on the wall back then and Steve (Rogers) and I both knew it.

"We looked at our options and re-locating to Gosford seemed the best of them.

"The NRL offered us $10 million off the bat and we believe we could have got that offer up to $12 million with some negotiation back in 2005.

"But we took it to the Sharks board, who were all very conservative, and they knocked it on the head - and that was the end of it ... they were in denial.

"The sad thing is that it was for five years so had the club gone when we planned in 2006, that would have ended after 2010 and been an end to the Sharks' massive debt."

Gallop would not speculate on whether the Sharks would get anything for merging with neighbours St George Illawarra, already a joint venture.

He said Cronulla linking with North Sydney, Central Queensland or Darwin and splitting home games would not be considered a merger because those teams are not currently in the competition.



LARGE and passionate crowds assembled in the Melbourne city precinct where the NSW and Queensland teams yesterday made their final public appearances before tomorrow night's opening Origin game.
But, alas for those hoping the somewhat controversial decision to move game one from the heartland for the first time will create unprecedented interest in the code south of the Murray, 48 hours before kick-off there were far more reported cases of swine flu in the southern capital than Origin fever.
The supporters of desperate causes swarming through Federation Square late on Sunday night were local Sri Lankans protesting about the treatment of Tamil separatists in their homeland. They were followed early on Monday morning by hundreds of Indian students disturbed by cases of racially motivated violence against their countrymen.
By the time NSW and Queensland players turned up, the atmosphere created by the small group of fans and office workers lured by the prospect of seeing the teams interviewed on stage by Mario Fenech and Gorden Tallis and - even more popular - a free sausage and coffee, was noticeably less charged.
It was the type of flat, almost half-hearted occasion that might fuel the argument that rugby league's showcase game should not be ripped from the heartland in the name of promotion - no matter how many dollars are thrown at the ARL by the event-hungry Victorian Government. While Mal Meninga has said all the right things at the Origin launch and with Queensland in camp about "growing the game", he is just one prominent figure who has made it clear that he would prefer the match to have been played in Brisbane - for competitive and spiritual reasons.
Local interest has not been inspired by a media frenzy. Predictably, in a rare week when rugby league would not have minded finding itself on the front page or leading news bulletins, Origin has been overshadowed by the AFL, with the ongoing saga at Richmond - Ben Cousins's obscene gesture at a television camera and the departure of coach Terry Wallace - leaving tomorrow night's game a virtual afterthought.
"It [the Cousins story] is the type of issue that can get on top of you, but we had always envisaged the biggest interest in the game would come on the Tuesday and Wednesday," said NRL marketing director Paul Kind, who claimed the most significant measure of the game's impact in Melbourne would not be pre-match publicity but the increase in local television ratings.
In 2006 - the last time Origin was played in Melbourne - local audiences jumped 49 per cent from the previous year to an average of 418,000 viewers, a decent figure in a city where the NRL's Friday night matches are usually not shown until after midnight.
The lack of pre-match hoo-ha has not hurt at the turnstiles. Only standing room and obscured vision seats are left and a crowd close to Etihad Stadium's capacity of 54,000 is expected. At least 10,000 fans will travel from interstate (about 18,000 did so in 2006).
It will be these tourists, and thousands of locally based ex-pats, that give the transplanted game a semblance of its traditionally electric atmosphere. But local indifference should not deter the ARL and NRL from ploughing away in Melbourne.
Those who ridicule the AFL for moving into western Sydney fail to understand the game is targeting future generations, not the current AFL-resistant inhabitants. Similarly, rugby league must dare to dream of the day when crowds flock to see the game's heroes on foreign soil - without the promise of a free sausage - or risk long-term oblivion.


I wonder if the North Sydney Bears would be willing to merg with the Sharks up at Central Coast? The Bears have been making plenty of noise about a re-entry into the NRL as both the Gold Coast and Souths have done.
Sharks look dead in the water. The NRL has several areas they want to expand into but they need to the Sydney clubs to either merg or make way. A third Brisbane club looks to be leading the pack along with a Perth side re-entering again. The Central Coast would be served by the merged team or the Sharks by them selves and an Orcas team from either Wellington or Canterbury or both is still in the mix. Interesting times.


Sydney can probably support 4 teams - central, south, east and west. Then you have to throw in the traditional areas clammering for a team; Central Coast, Central Queensland, Sunshine Coast - then there are the "expansion" areas; Adelaide, Perth, Darwin, Wellington and PNG.

The NRL in 20 years time could look very different!

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