New ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys has revealed plans to launch a second NRL team in Brisbane to ensure the health of State of Origin and crush the rival AFL code in the key Queensland market.
In his most candid interview since succeeding Peter Beattie, V’landys has laid bare his strategic blueprint, outlining his desire for a 17-team premiership and why Brisbane – not Perth – is the next region in line to receive an NRL licence.
For the past decade, NRL bosses have dithered on expansion and failed to capitalise on the mostly pathetic performances of AFL’s Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns in the south-east Queensland sector.
But now, as the Lions claw back to title credibility, V’landys – viewed as a visionary
Lauded as the man who saved horse racing with his commercial nous, V’landys is primed to bring a new corporate edge to the NRL.
Rugby league’s next broadcast deal is due in 2023 and the new ARLC chairman concedes there is no guarantee the NRL will better its current $1.8 billion contract if it maintains the status quo with 16 teams.
Beattie identified Redcliffe as a potential home for a new NRL team, but the city-based Brisbane Bombers have been chasing a licence since 2011 and are ready to pounce if the code decides to expand.
Previous regimes have pushed for the NRL to expand to a new frontier in Perth, but V’landys believes Brisbane’s metropolitan market of 2.1 million people can sustain a second team to coexist with the Broncos.
“Queensland is our market – we need a game every week in Brisbane,” V’landys told The Sunday Mail.
“I can see 17 teams in the next broadcast deal working.
“I am not going to pre-empt the ARL Commission’s decision, but having a second team in Brisbane is 100 per cent an option.
“This is only my view, but Brisbane can sustain a second team, no question.
“The NRL is a billion-dollar business and I will be doing everything possible to make Queensland even stronger.”
Two decades on, Perth is flexing its muscle. Western Australia’s new $1 billion Optus Stadium hosted State of Origin for the first time in June and rugby league will return to Perth next year with the relaunch of the NRL Nines.
But V’landys is not convinced the NRL will take off in AFL-dominated Perth. He wants to reward generations of diehard league fans in Queensland.
“We must undertake a full analysis (of growth markets) but Perth does not have a huge league audience. Then there is the concern around flying NRL players five hours when we already hear criticism of player workloads and how taxing the season is on the stars of the game.
“I am unashamedly a massive fan of Queensland because it’s our second strongest rugby league market.
“I have great admiration for Bruce Hatcher (QRL chairman). He has been a warrior for the game of rugby league in Queensland and that must be recognised.
“If you are running rugby league as a commercial operation, which we are, you want to be putting a lot of money and effort into Queensland.”
While mindful of the AFL threat in Queensland, V’landys’ more pressing concern is maintaining the success of the NRL’s golden egg – State of Origin.
Traditionally, about 15 per cent of NRL-contracted players are eligible for Queensland. But if the Blues embark on a five or six-year dynasty in the coming seasons, it would be a crushing blow for an Origin concept that thrives on Queensland punching above its weight.
“Queensland is the state that we must grow to take rugby league to another level and continue the importance of State of Origin,” V’landys said.
“Our elite game is State of Origin. We need Queensland as strong as possible for the sake of the Origin competition.
“I had a good chat with Ben Ikin (QRL board member and former Queensland Origin player) about this.
“He gave a presentation to me recently and he was spot on and so insightful. He was brilliant. He made it clear that we don’t need Queensland strong for the NRL only, we need Queensland strong for State of Origin.
“My job is to maximise the return on the broadcast deal to keep the game profitable.
“Like it or not, we are in the entertainment industry and we are here to entertain. The Queensland market is a key part of our success moving forward.
“I can see many benefits to having another team in Brisbane for young Queensland kids to aspire to play for.”