Ricky’s View: NRL Expansion Pt 3 – “Wellington”

Ask any current New Zealand Warriors fan of Kiwi rugby league fan and they would probably tell you that they are eager to see a second New Zealand team in the National Rugby League. Is it feasible? This, part 3 of the NRL expansion review, will go over the Wellington bid/s and what they have done so far.

    Wellington Bid

The Warriors have enjoyed some success in the past – they have after all reached a grand final since their inception – and a host of players from both the North and South islands have played for them over the years. Their talent pool is vast and wide-ranging, evidenced by the number of Kiwi-based players playing for Australian rugby league clubs and in the English Super League.

On that merit alone, signing and accruing players for a new team would not be hard to achieve, given the mass talent pool to choose from with juniors and with experienced players across the globe. The question must be asked, however, just how would a second team in New Zealand go, most likely based from Wellington? With rugby union such a popular sport in the country, would they be able to make inroads and challenge union for code supremacy?

Over the years, several Wellington bids in particular have put forth ambitious plans to get a side into the NRL but with little to no success. The Southern Orcas was one such bid, who have had ambitions to do since 2007 but despite their best efforts, it was the Gold Coast Titans who eventually got the nod during the last expansion period. Can a New Zealand bid be more successful the second time around or is it still too early?

There have long been plans to further develop and grow the game of rugby league in New Zealand and a key step towards that was the induction of the NRL Auckland Nines, a competition that has enjoyed success. Ambition does not stop there, though, with plans to continue such development and growth and start to groom the country for another NRL side.

There are several bids for a Wellington side out there, both of which have gotten off the ground and are thus serious about making it happen. They have also received some support from NRL CEO Dave Smith, who has gone on record and stated that he is keen to see the development and growth possibilities for the region – comments that are a boost for aspiring Wellington bids.

For all the positives that exist in having a second side in New Zealand and based out of Wellington, there are some real concerns about whether it is feasible. The man responsible for the first bid attempt in Wellington has his doubts as to whether it can work. With Westpac Stadium struggling to get crowds for numerous sports and uncertainty over whether the councils, stadium and businesses would support the bid in its entirety, a former NZ Councillor admits that getting the bid off the ground would be tough.

Those sort of comments become a detriment to any future NRL bid and raises concerns about how the potential bid would go in terms of raising awareness and raising its rugby league profile across New Zealand, and just how hard it is to penetrate the rugby league market in NZ. Although it is possible for one to break through the glass ceiling and be successful, the pessimism coming from many circles can be concerning.

With that said, there is support for a second bid from current players. Former Kiwi half Benji Marshall is one such supporter of a second NZ team, citing the high number of juniors and the chance for a budding, long-term rivalry between the two sides, thus making rugby league a bigger sport in the region and increasing its profile.

Ricky’s View: Ultimately, whilst a second team in New Zealand would help to grow the game in the country and provide many positive and fruitful elements of growth, whether the country itself is ready for another team and whether the bid is heavily backed by those who can make an impact, remains to be seen. In my view, there should definitely be a second team in New Zealand at some point and they do deserve one – such is their standing with flourishing juniors and untapped areas – just not at the next round of expansion. It could be argued that they are just not ready and that at this stage, their overall bid is slightly behind that of some others that have been pushing hard for acceptance since 2010/11.

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