‘Pacific Bears’ set to enter NRL expansion race
The Bears are reportedly on the brink of formally presenting a comprehensive proposal to the NRL, outlining their ambitious plans to become the league’s 18th team – as part of a bid involving the Pacific region.
The Daily Telegraph revealed that the Bears have meticulously prepared for this historic push over the last two years, with their proposal set to reach NRL powerbrokers within the next fortnight.
The submission by the Bears – who as North Sydney were a foundation club who featured in the premiership from 1908-99 before entering into an ill-fated merger with neighbouring Manly – is a multifaceted initiative, set to include Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands, Fiji, parts of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
An official name for the bid has yet to be confirmed but the ‘Pacific Bears’ is being spruiked as a likely title. The Bears intend to be based in Sydney, with several home games to be played at the iconic North Sydney Oval.
Bears Chairman, Daniel Dickson, expressed the organisation’s eagerness to embrace the Pacific region in their proposal.
“We would love to incorporate the Pacific and we are absolutely passionate about embracing some of those territories that would do very well with what the Bears have to offer,” Dickson said.
“We will put forward our proposal in the coming weeks. The Bears would very much embrace those rugby league heartlands and hope we could be part of the NRL’s expansion plans.”
The Bears’ proposal comes against the backdrop of a substantial $600 million expansion proposal for the NRL. League executives are reportedly in discussions with the Australian Government regarding the establishment of a team based in Papua New Guinea. The government has signalled its readiness to allocate $60 million annually for a minimum of 10 years to support both sporting and economic development in PNG.
Papua New Guinea NRL bid leader dismisses imminent license announcement.
— Ministry of Sport (@ministryofsport) October 24, 2023
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is said to be advocating for a team based in Port Moresby, with games potentially being hosted in Cairns as part of a strategy to counter China’s increasing influence in the region.
Dickson highlighted the Bears’ commitment to creating pathways for players from the Pacific region.
“There is so much work to be done in those places and the expanding franchise has to be willing to think that this isn’t just an 18th team.
“This is all about developing – the talent is there but the pathways aren’t.
“The current Pacific Championships proves the game needs to consider expansion into multiple territories, not potentially just one. Forty to fifty percent of NRL players have Pacific heritage.
“Not only do people want to see the Bears return to top-flight rugby league, we also have a strong desire to be a successful partner in developing the Pacific nations, who would require the skill and expertise of a club with the heritage we have.”
The Bears have a contingency plan in place if their Pacific bid is rejected. Teaming up with a Perth bid has been touted as a potential option as the NRL looks to increase its footprint in Australia.
Despite not having a presence in the NRL since the Northern Eagles joint venture imploded in 2002, North Sydney Bears maintain a fervent fanbase. The club reached the second-tier NSW Cup grand final this season and recently entered into a two-year feeder arrangement with NRL heavyweights Melbourne Storm for 2024-25.
Are you a Bear? No better time than now to become a Bear #StandAside
— North Sydney Bears (@NthSydneyBears) October 30, 2023
Image credit: Flickr/NAPARAZZI