The Expansionist – Could An English Team Work In The NRL?

First off, this a huge pipe dream and the most pub napkin idea that you have ever heard. It would require money, favouritism, and a bit of a gamble but not as big as you may think.

Everyone in Australia is fighting over who the 17th team and potentially
18th team will be, but this is my pitch for the 19th team.

Rugby League in the UK has no real leadership, broadcast rights dollars going down and no interest in proper structural reform has the game is in a spiral and on its way to becoming a semi-professional sport.

Mergers, Expansion, Private Ownerships etc all seem off the table with fans and owners for various reasons, so how do we move forward?

It’s been suggested that the NRL buy a 50% stake worth $135 Million in UK Rugby League, but you would still be battling the same problems of self-interest and the small M-62 Road footprint.

The simple solution is to go above them.

Introducing the Northern Union Rebels Est 1895.

A new club with perhaps the oldest and greatest identity playing in the best competition in the world.

The ultimate merger that can unite all fanbases in England and honours the heritage of the 21 rebel clubs who broke away and gave birth to Rugby League 125 years ago and every club who has existed since.

Could this be the one English Rugby League merger that everyone can get behind?

What could Paul Caddick, Eamonn McManus, Simon Moran, Ian Lenegan, Gary Hetherington etc all do with annual grant of 7 million pounds or would someone with even deeper pockets become involved in Rugby League.

This could be funded by selling a stake in the RFL or Super League to private equity.

If the RFL or Super League clubs shared ownership of the Rebels the club profits could fed down to Super League and Championship levels.

Super League clubs could boost attendances by playing curtain raisers and profit sharing.

Imagine booking Anfield or Etihad to host a double header Wigan v St Helens followed by the Rebels v Storm or to maximise the Australian audience kick the Rebels off first followed by Super League.

Divide them onto opposite sides of the field for the derby and then have them unite to cheer on the Rebels take on the best the NRL can throw at them.

TV Audiences
Rugby League World Cup 2013 TV audiences were close to 2-3 million and The Challenge Cup final audience this year was 1.3 million viewers.

That’s State of Origin and NRL finals level ratings that’s not bad for sport that’s in decline and shows the market is there it’s just about tapping into with the best talent and more exposure.

What would Sky or other networks pay to get those kinds of figures at least once a weekend?

By playing on Saturdays, you could kick off 1230pm in the UK and be the last game on Super Saturday in Australia at 930pm giving fox 4 live games every Saturday.

The Social Media presence of English Clubs depending on the platform equal and in some cases eclipse some Australian clubs.

This is Melbourne Storm left field expansion but with potential Brisbane Broncos level fanfare, juniors, and audience.

Season Structure and Travel
Here is where the favouritism kicks in you let the Rebels play all their games in the UK at large capacity venues.

Northern Rebels would play trial matches against the Challenge Cup Winner and Super League Winner and have a last round bye to assist with playing finals in Australia.

NRL Clubs would have a bye before and after visiting the UK I don’t know how you make it work but you just do.

Whilst over there, they could train with Super League clubs and do a proper tour, fan meetings, interviews, coaching clinics and raise the profile of the sport at all levels.

This would be a great way to shorten the NRL season by all teams only playing each other once and re-open the international window on both hemispheres.

This new team would stop the best talent from leaving England and gives a pathway to players who don’t want to make a full relocation to pursue a career in the best League in the world.

For every Sam Burgess, Josh Hodgson and James Graham we have a John Bateman and George Williams that get homesick and cuts their journey short.

There have been some great players that have never made the venture at all Kris Radlinksi, Kevin Sinfield, Sean O’Loughlin, James Roby, Keiron Cunningham, Andrew Farrell and Sean Long all come to mind who never tested themselves for one reason or another.

This higher profile path would stop the player drain to Rugby Union or keeping players like Owen Farrell, Iestyn Harris, Jason Robinson and Josh Charnley from ever playing Union at all or being able to recruit the best Australian and NZ talent before the twilight of their career and their best long since passed

Rising tide lifts all boats as existing NRL clubs would benefit by being greatly by playing on both hemispheres and open more lucrative corporate support for both club and game.

Gone would be the car yards and in come the car companies, airlines, and other titans of industry.

Larger sponsorship investments could also clean up Rugby League jersey and stop them looking like Nascar uniforms
This is the single largest established market Rugby League could easily push a team into that could be the springboard for further exploration of Europe.

We have a million reasons why this could never work and won’t happen, but it would be amazing way to unite Rugby League fans in the UK into saving sport slipping into oblivion.

It took New Zealand 13 years in the NRL to finally win a World Cup I bet England could do it within a decade

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