Brisbane Tigers sound out PNG for joint NRL expansion bid
As speculation around the NRL’s expansion plans ramp up, Brisbane Tigers have put forth a proposal for a joint venture with Papua New Guinea as part of the push to establish an 18th NRL franchise.
The appetite for a Papua New Guinea-based bid is gaining momentum, with the Australian Government reportedly willing to allocate $600 million to support a new NRL club over 10 years – ostensibly to mitigate China’s growing influence in the region.
Brisbane Tigers (formerly Easts Tigers), the current Queensland Cup champions, have been in the expansion mix for the past few years. Their bid to become the NRL’s 17th team as Brisbane Firehawks was thwarted by the Redcliffe-based Dolphins.
Shane Richardson, the bid chief for the Brisbane Tigers, is monitoring the NRL’s expansion plans. He envisions the Tigers becoming operational in the NRL by 2026.
Founded in 1917 (as Coorparoo), the club boasts cash reserves exceeding $25 million and has upgraded its training facility to the tune of $10 million at Langlands Park.
While the Tigers possess the means to function as an independent NRL club, Richardson is open to exploring a joint venture with Papua New Guinea for the 18th NRL license. This partnership could involve sharing home games between Suncorp Stadium and Port Moresby’s National Football Stadium.
Papua New Guinea NRL bid leader dismisses imminent license announcement.
— Ministry of Sport (@ministryofsport) October 24, 2023
“The one thing I like about PNG is they are a genuine rugby league country, so the support for a team would go through the roof,” Richardson told News Corp’s Peter Badel.
“I think the Tigers winning the Queensland Cup this year shows we should be the next team to come into the NRL.
“We have great respect for PNG. We are genuine rugby league territory and so are they, so there is that possibility of forming a joint venture.
“We would be ready to come in for 2026. A PNG franchise might take a bit longer, possibly 2028, but we have the capacity to stand alone and be the 18th team in the NRL.”
“The reality is the Brisbane Tigers can push the button tomorrow and be in the NRL. We have the money, the stadium, the leagues club. It’s a decision for the NRL on the next licence and we have an open mind.”
Richardson firmly believes that a proposed Pasifika model, encompassing Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, among other nations – and proposed in recent days by the Bears – is not a feasible option for the 18th NRL club.
He noted that logistical challenges could arise, with the potential for conflicting interests, such as a Pasifika team based in Cairns – a prominent option for the Papua New Guinea NRL bid – affecting the North Queensland Cowboys.
“I can’t imagine the Cowboys would be too keen to see a Pasifika team based in Cairns,” Richardson continued.
“If the Brisbane Tigers is an easy expansion option and PNG is a bit harder, a Pasifika bid is really hard.”
🐅 #NRL BID ANNOUNCEMENT
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— Suzuki Brisbane Tigers (@EastsTigers) May 17, 2023
According to Badel, ARL Commission chair Peter V’landys believes legendary coach Wayne Bennett is the ideal candidate to spearhead the creation of an 18th NRL franchise. Bennett steered the Dolphins through an admirable debut NRL campaign in 2023 but is set to depart at the end of 2024, with highly-rated assistant Kristian Woolf to take over.
Along with Papua New Guinea, Brisbane Tigers and an emerging ‘Pacific Bears’ bid, teams based in Perth and the South Island of New Zealand are also in the NRL’s expansion frame.