‘Five Qld teams by 2027 and war on AFL’
Australian Rugby League Commission boss Peter V'landys has revealed Queensland could have a fifth NRL team by 2027 and has outlined plans to clean up the sport to win the turf war against the AFL.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Courier Mail, V'landys opened up about expansion, the AFL threat, the NRL's image and his disgust at the wild brawl that marred a Brisbane junior league game last weekend.
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V'landys and NRL bosses arrived in Brisbane on Wednesday ahead of the NRL's Magic Round at Suncorp Stadium and the ARLC chief is using the event as a vehicle to ensure rugby league dominates the AFL in Queensland.
Part of that strategy involves a proposed second Brisbane team for 2023, a possible fifth Queensland club for the next broadcast deal and a wider appeal to Australian mums and dads concerned about the brutality of the sport.
THE NRL'S IMAGE
Rugby league has copped a series of black eyes in recent days. There was not only the sickening sight of Roosters five-eighth Drew Hutchison suffering a punctured lung after being kneed in the back by Eels rival Dylan Brown last Saturday.
Just 24 hours after that incident, Queensland rugby league was rocked by a melee at an under-13s game between Wynnum Manly and Logan Brothers in which a parent required facial surgery after being kicked in the face.
V'landys said he will put rugby league under the microscope across all levels of the sport to provide a safe environment for parents, coaches and players, both grassroots and professional.
"I want to send a message to mums and dads in Queensland and across Australia - they should not be concerned about their kids playing rugby league," he said.
"I will take every action necessary to stop foul play and we will not tolerate any hit above the shoulder even if it's accidental.
"That's the edict coming from me.
"A lot of junior league is non-contact as it stands. There are always ways to improve the sport and safety is uppermost in my mind.
"But as a Commission, we will make the game safer."
Of the Brisbane junior brawl, V'landys said: "It's disgusting. They are acts of cowards. If you want to be a thug, you have no place in our game.
"If you want to be an aggressive bully, get out of our game. Go somewhere else. I won't stand for it."
THE AFL THREAT
V'landys believes rugby league is under siege in Queensland. The Brisbane Lions are constructing a $70 million headquarters at Springfield in the western corridor on the very patch of grass that once housed rugby league goalposts and football fields.
That is the most palpable sign the AFL is making dangerous incursions into rugby league heartland - and V'landys promised the NRL empire will strike back.
"I will give due credit to the AFL," he said.
"They have quietly kept us warm and fuzzy and held our hand while they are invading us.
"Let's not mince words. The AFL are invading Queensland and that is brilliant management. I'm not bagging the AFL. They have excellent strategy. But I'm up for the fight. I'm not going to sit back and give them our territory.
"It's like if you are at war - you don't give the enemy half your land.
"Queensland is our turf and I will protect it. The AFL have been very smart and strategic by moving into the western corridor (of Brisbane), but they can't sit back and think I will accept that.
"Every corridor of rugby league's house in Queensland is important. It's our traditional market, but you cannot be complacent and I won't allow us to be.
"We will come out fighting."
On Monday, the NRL formally called for expressions of interest for a second team in Brisbane to rival the Broncos. The Brisbane Jets, Firehawks and Dolphins are the three consortia bidding to join the big league as the NRL's 17th team in 2023.
Some of the NRL's existing clubs, led by the Gold Coast Titans, have expressed concerns about growing the code in a COVID-affected climate, but V'landys hit back at critics of his expansion push.
"We would be derelict in our duty as an ARL Commission not to look at the footprint of our game and how he can make our game more viable and appealing to people," he said.
"The competition is not just other sports - technology is the other threat in this new world.
"Video games are a problem and we need to get children off what I call home devices. I see it in my own kids. My children are 11, 10 and 8 and they love spending time on their iPads, Xboxes and Playstations and they have very little interest in playing sport.
"One, we have to attract kids to play sport and the second motive is to entice them to play rugby league.
"If you want to dominate a market you need to have a presence there all the time. We want to dominate Queensland. A second Brisbane team gives the NRL a game every weekend at Suncorp Stadium.
"We are analysing it. Expansion is not a fait accompli.
"People who are jumping up and down should understand that as directors (of the ARL Commission), we have a responsibility to the game as a whole, not to individual clubs.
"Cameron Smith, the greatest player ever, was a Logan junior. He went from Brisbane to Melbourne.
"If there was a second Brisbane team, would he have gone there?
"We should not be on the board if we are too scared to look at a second Brisbane team. We should not be frightened of opportunity. I am determined to grow the game."
STRIVE FOR FIVE
V'landys is keen to provide more value for the code's next broadcast deal with 18 teams having been discussed.
Pay TV operator Foxtel are locked in until 2027, while Channel 9's contract expires at the end of next year and the free-to-air giant are sure to seek additional revenue streams from the NRL to justify fresh media investment.
The NRL are exploring the birth of a second team in New Zealand to join the Warriors, while V'landys is open to a fifth licence in Queensland.
"A fifth team in Queensland is not out of the question at all as we continue to grow," he said.
"If an 18th team was to come in, it might happen in the next broadcast cycle, but if it is going to happen, planning has to start now. It's part of our long-term plan.
"It's too early to be absolutely certain where we go. New Zealand was suggested by Andrew (Abdo, NRL CEO) and that is certainly a market that we are after, but it could be anywhere.
"I won't rule out Perth, but there could be another team in Queensland."
The Courier-Mail can reveal Tourism and Events Queensland are keen to keep Magic Round at Suncorp Stadium for the next 10 years.
The first instalment of Magic Round in 2019 attracted 134,677 fans and delivered a $20 million economic injection. The NRL's deal with the Queensland government expires at the end of 2023 and V'landys has no plans to take Magic Round out of the Sunshine State.
"We have an excellent relationship with Tourism and Events Queensland and they have done a magnificent job backing the Magic Round," he said.
"There may be another time where we might look at other cities for Magic Round, but at the moment I love the concept in Queensland.
"We are loyal partners and the players all enjoy playing at Suncorp which is one of the best sporting stadiums in the world.
"It's a Queensland event."
There is a view Queenslanders will never see an NRL grand final at Suncorp Stadium. The NSW government is committed to retaining the NRL grand final until 2042, but V'landys says there may be scope for a Suncorp decider.
"I will never say never on a grand final in Queensland," he said.
"I understand and admire the passion of the Queensland people for rugby league and there are ways and means to do anything in life if you are a can-do person. I am a can-do person.
"Obviously there are reasons why the NRL grand final in Sydney but I would be insular to rule out having a grand final at Suncorp Stadium."
STATE OF ORIGIN
V'landys warned the golden goose of rugby league - the $100 million showpiece that is State of Origin - could be under threat if the NRL does not expand in Queensland.
"State of Origin's success hinges on Queensland," he said.
"I can tell you this, if we don't look to grow the game in Queensland, we might not have a competitive State of Origin in 10 years. It could be totally eroded.
"One of the reasons we are looking at expansion is because one of the QRL's own directors, Ben Ikin, gave a presentation about it. He said if we don't look after participation in Queensland, we will not have a viable State of Origin in the future. He is 100 per cent correct.
"If Queensland gets a cough, State of Origin catches a cold. We need Queensland strong for playing talent ... or State of Origin becomes sick."
Originally published as 'Five Qld teams by 2027, war on AFL': V'landys' most explosive interview yet