NRL discusses prspect of a two conference league

‘We’ve got to be innovative’: Why NRL looking at 18-team, two-conference idea

Lance Jenkinson & Dan Walsh | | 28 April 2021

While stressing no concrete decisions have been made, ARL Commissioner Peter Beattie said the two-conference model idea is part of the NRL’s mantra to continually look for innovative ways to make the sport better.

The NRL has been canvassing clubs on the potential of splitting the competition into conferences in what would be one of the biggest restructures in the game’s history.

As part of long-term expansion plans being explored, several NRL clubs – including the Dragons and Eels – have been pitched the conference concept among a variety of proposals, as first reported by the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday night.

With NRL CEO Andrew Abdo outlining the prospect of an 18-team competition to last month, the addition of a fourth Queensland side in 2023 and an additional franchise, which would be a few years later, have once more raised the notion of two, nine-club conference systems being introduced. understands the oft-mooted idea of two geographically dictated conferences, comprised of Sydney and non-Sydney based sides, has been discussed during club visits made by Abdo and ARLC chairman Peter V’landys over the past two months.

“One of the things that the Commission does and Peter V’landys as a great innovator in sport is look at every option,” Beattie said at the launch for game one of the Ampol State of Origin series which will be played at the MCG on June 9.

"Naturally, to do that, you’ve got to consult and no decisions have been made.

"The Commission will consider what will happen in terms of future media deals and compositions later in the year.

"The fact that we’re here in Melbourne, bringing the State of Origin back for a ninth time, indicates this is the National Rugby League.

"We’ve got to be innovative and smart and look at a number of options.

“Let me be clear, no decision has been made in relation to that. Of course, the Commission is going to consult with various clubs about options and then we’ll make a decision and that will be later in the year.”

Beattie said he would not decide whether he favoured the conference option until he had looked at the stats, opportunities and the feedback from the ARL Commission’s consultation with broadcasters, the clubs and other stakeholders.

Further high-level discussions around expansion plans are expected to be held during next month’s Magic Round weekend in Brisbane.

A conference system that pits the nine Sydney-based sides on one side, and the three Queensland sides, Canberra, Melbourne, Newcastle, the Warriors and two potential expansion clubs, has had backing from both Phil Gould and Wayne Bennett for the best part of a decade.

“We’ve got to be innovative and smart and look at a number of options.”

Peter Beattie

Any potential competition restructuring is several years away.

The conference system gained traction during last year’s COVID-19 hiatus, with Bennett championing the idea once more to Project Apollo as a means of navigating state border closures.

The prospect of effectively “three grand finals each year” in the form of two conferences playing off to progress toward an NFL-esque Super Bowl looms as a key selling point for broadcasters and clubs.

So too the prospect of more regular-season local derbies among Sydney clubs and Queensland-based sides, which have consistently proven the highest-rating and crowd-drawing fixtures.

Concerns around a conference system include the extensive travel that would be required for non-Sydney based sides, and the prospect of an all-Sydney grand final being ruled out if the season were to finish with a Super Bowl-style decider.

“All those things [such as extra travel] will be taken into consideration when the Commission makes a decision,” Beattie said.

“This is a competition where the clubs are really important. The [NRL] premiers are here [in Melbourne]. As you know, I’m a Queenslander at heart, even though these days I live in Sydney, so we’ll take those [interstate factors] into account.”

Beattie added that making the game more attractive to broadcasters was always high on the agenda. Expanding to an 18-team league with a conference system would add 33 matches to the regular season - one each round.

“All these proposals are designed to look at how you grow the game,” Beattie said.

"This is a really competitive environment sport - often it’s not seen that way, but it is and we know that. We’ve got to be at the cutting edge of doing this. We’ve got new media deals coming up from 2023.

“Rugby league is now in a new phase in its life and that’s to be the most innovative sport in Australia and one of the most innovative sports in the world and we’re determined to do that.”

Several Queensland consortiums including the Redcliffe Dolphins, Brisbane Firehawks and Jets have bids at the ready for NRL consideration around the game’s next expansion addition.

When asked if Perth was still in the expansion race, Beattie said "No decision has been made about that either.

"They’ve got a good local competition over there [in Perth] and they’re obviously interested in having another team and all of those things need to be considered.

“We’ve said very clearly though and I don’t want to be misunderstood on this, the next team, the 17th team will be in Queensland, we’ve made that absolutely clear and that decision will be made mid-year.”

Abdo and V’landys have repeatedly insisted that any new licence will only be granted if it is financially viable and beneficial, with Abdo raising expansion and conference models with earlier this year.

“Moving to 17 teams wouldn’t be an end point. It gets you closer to 18 teams and obviously 18 teams gives you a few different options,” Abdo said in March.

"An 18th team allows you to think about what we might want to do about expanding in New Zealand. Having two teams in New Zealand creates a tribalism and a new rivalry in New Zealand.

“It also gives you options around pools because you can have two pools of nine teams. As you see with some of the big US sports, as you grow your competition and the scale of the number of teams, you can create a dynamic around who plays who.”


The proposed conferences…

Sydney Conference Regional Conference
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs Brisbane Broncos
Cronulla Sutherland Sharks North Queensland Cowboys
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles Gold Coast Titans
Parramatta Eels Canberra Raiders
Penrith Panthers Melboune Storm
South Sydney Rabbitohs Newcastle Knights
St George Illawarra Dragons New Zealand Warriors
Sydney Roosters Expansion Team (QLD?)
Wests Tigers Expansion Team (NZ?)

Knights fans will be the big losers from a fan perspective, they are as loyal as you get and they will only have home games to attend. The fact they are only 2 hours from Sydney will be a kick in the pants to their supporters.

The 1st issue that came to mind when reading about this was, the refereeing, do they have enough quality to entertain the additional games and more to the point, the refs must be a week on Sydney, week on Regional alternate weeks system. The 2 competitions could easily have 2 completely different speeds of play if refs are assigned to a single conference.

Note: Do we honestly think this new system will attract NEW fans, I sincerely doubt the Sydney comp will, Sydney teams NEED the interstate away games to gain any new support. That will be lost.

What about interstate fans it means we have to travel to Sydney if we can or not see Panthers play “live”. The clubs in Sydney would find it harder to sell memberships if they never travel interstate and I am not convinced Broncos would want to lose home games against some of the interstate sides which can add thousands to the attendance figures.
The other issue would have to be it is meant to be a National league and this doesn’t really fit that target


A ‘conference’ system?

What a joke, they can’t even get the rules right. :upside_down_face:

Haggis - 7 months man, where have you been lol

Your right, and even Gordi said the same thing, most kids growing up in QLD had 2 favorite teams, one from Sydney and quite often you would go to watch them against the Broncs as well, even if you supported Nth QLD or the GC.

I get the feeling this is not about the fan, it’s about TV and the $$$ that will generate.

Not a fan of the idea. The only real advantage I can see for us is we will get to see more Panthers games live if they play home & away with all the Sydney teams.

I would also want the finals system to be arranged so that 2 teams from the same conference could potentially meet in the Grand Final.

a Super League eh ?..

How’d that go with soccer?

How’d that go with Rugby League?

It’s the fans that keep the game going not the TV networks.

National RL, 1 team in Vic, 3 in Qld, 1 in N Z.

Look the game will go backwards if progress is not pursued. But progress is measured by success. Until this pandemic subsides and all games are assessed by crowd attendance/partipation, how in hell can we confidently predict progress?

I am in favour of expansion. But splitting the league is not the way to achieve this.

I feel at this stage… the NRL could stand to have 20 teams in the competition by at the latest 2030.

I also the 4 teams should be spread out a little. Another team in QLD, another in NZ, one in SA, and one in WA.


Having lived in SA for nearly 2 years, they are desperate for a league team again.

Hang on, I moved back…what do i care ha ha haaaaa

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Talk of not enough talent for more teams is just rubbish.

I have a concern if a conference system had the final as a “super bowl” - huge unfair advantage to Bellamy and his grey area wrestling team.

This could be overcome via a finals system of say top 2 from each conference, then next best 4 teams of the combined competition.

If we are going to expand the comp, go hard I say! Bring back the Steelers, Bears and Jets.

2 or 3 new teams from SE QLD (50% or more of Brisbane league fans HATE the broncos). Ipswitch, Redbank and Sunshine Coast.

Maybe combine Ipswich and Newton - play 2-3 games a season from Henson Park.

May as well through Rocky into the mix too.

PNG / Port Morsby is a no brained from a talent perspective, just needs the corporate support and facilities. Same goes with Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

Adelaide, Perth, Darwin and dare I say it Tasmania. Tassie has been at war with the AFL for years not giving them a team, why not league take a league out of their book and deliver them a national/ pacific competition when AFL refuses.

Ok say if you did all this and included say Christchurch and / or Wellington (NZ), you’d have 16 additional teams on top of the current 16.

Play 10-12 rounds as a combined competition. The top 10 - 16 then play for the NRL premiership, the remainder play for the 2nd division cup.

You get the benefits of a promotion / relegation system without the disbenefit of clubs being unable to attract sponsors or players if they are stuck in 2nd division, as every team has a chance to play for the big prize every year.

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If we are going to talk expansion, I’m thinking along the lines of the following:

2nd Brisbane team

Central Queensland
Christchurch/South Island NZ


Sunshine Coast



Give each expansion 3 years to settle in before adding the next teams.

Have the next expansion teams play 3 years in either NSW Cup or Queensland Cup to prepare for the step up to NRL.

Once the competition has 24+ teams, play each team once only, alternating between home & away.

Leave the finals as an 8 team format, until there are more than 20 teams, then expand to a 10 team finals format.

I have always argued that we should have a 2nd division and relegation. I still stand by that.


I somewhat agree with you BX, you only have to look are english soccer to see how well it (generally) works.

But what you need is a good, fair competition and rules for promotion and relegation (as opposed to what used to exist in Sydney club rugby). Detractors say 2nd division teams loose sponsors and players, but TV coverage can fix those issues (probably easier these days with streaming and pay tv).

I guess the benefit of what I propose is that you get all the benefit of promotion / relegation, with every team having a chance to play for the big prize each and every year. The level of interest for the round 10 (or 8 -12 depending on structure of the comp) cutoff, will almost be as great as the finals themselves.

Play the 2nd division final as the prelim game to the NRL final.