Ipswich’s bid for an NRL team has been thrust back into the national spotlight amid calls from broadcasters and support from rugby league greats, including Jonathan Thurston, for a second Brisbane side in the competition.
Sydney newspaper The Daily Telegraph broke the news on Sunday in an interview with Channel 9’s director of sport Tom Malone.
Mr Malone wants to see changes to the competition ahead of the next TV rights deal in 2023.
“That could come from another team being relocated there, or better still another club being discontinued and a new club established in Brisbane,” Mr Malone told The Daily Telegraph.
Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany also saw opportunity in South-East Queensland.
“They love their rugby league in Brisbane and it seems a natural fit. You get that inter-city rivalry which enhances tribalism and that’s ultimately what we want. It’s all about generating more fans and bigger TV audiences,” Mr Delany told The Daily Telegraph.
The reports caused significant ructions in the rugby league world, with some pundits speculating that a second Brisbane side would come at the expense of a Sydney club – most likely the Cronulla Sharks or Manly Sea Eagles.
Others have suggested the struggling Gold Coast Titans should be relocated.
An artist’s impression of North Ipswich Reserve Stadium.
Former Cowboys champion and Queensland great, Jonathan Thurston is among those in favour of relocation over expansion, telling Macquarie Sports Radio he was “certainly a fan of that”.
Ipswich is one of the country’s fastest growing areas and is rugby league heartland, having produced a long list of top grade and international players.
The city has been pushing for entry to the NRL since a Western Corridor NRL bid was launched in 2010.
The bid is based on a community ownership model and has been well supported by the community, including Ipswich City Council.
In May this year, Ipswich City Council committed $10 million – with conditions – towards redevelopment of North Ipswich Reserve Stadium into a 20,000-seat facility with the clear intent of supporting the entry of local teams to national sporting competitions.
The commitment is subject to equal contributions from the State Government and Federal Government, and other conditions.
“Without the appropriate facilities, both the Greater Ipswich Hyundai A-League expansion bid and the Western Corridor NRL bid team will be unable to enter into the national league competitions,” council’s Growth and Infrastructure committee heard earlier this year.
Ipswich City Council is preparing a Strategic Business Case to help with project development and future government funding support.
The stadium redevelopment would cost up to $220 million and could be done in five stages.
While it remains to be seen if Ipswich will have its long-held wish of joining the NRL granted, one thing is certain – the city is once again front and centre of NRL expansion talks.