NRL expansion and the Conference proposal

There are reports that the NRL are considering splitting the competiton into two conferences as part of an expansion to an 18 team competition. It's not entirely nuts - the conference system works well with some of the big American sporting competitions and is likely to deliver increased broadcasting revenues (without which, the NRL is effectively dust). CEO Andrew Abdo and Chairman Peter V'Landys have met with several clubs in recent weeks and are already getting support for the idea from some important figures in the game. 

Clearly we are a long way away from having intimate details at this point, but the two conferences are likely to be split as follows:

Conference A (the Sydney teams)

Roosters, Rabbitohs, Eels, Bulldogs, Tigers, Panthers, Dragons, Sharks and Sea Eagles.

Conference B (everyone else)

Broncos, Titans, Cowboys, Storm, Warriors, Knights, Raiders, plus one new Brisbane based team and (probably) a second New Zealand team (presumably based in Wellington or Christchurch.

This would lead to a grand final between the top team from each conference. 

Your thoughts?

My main concern is for a lot of NRL fans up in Queensland. A lot of people up here actually follow a Sydney based team (an idea that lots of Sydneysiders and Coach Potatoes can never get their head around). Turn up at Suncorp for a Broncos game and you will regularly get 5 to 10 thousand fans at the game supporting the other side. This is, at least in part, because rugby league fans in Queensland used to follow a team in the QRL and a team in the NSWRL. When the NSWRL expanded to a national competition, many of those people stuck solid with their NSWRL team rather than jump on the Broncos bandwagon. A conference system means those fans miss out on seeing their team live up in Queensland.

Depth of talent may be an issue too, as is often the case when any competition expands. Hopefully, that resolves itself in time as more kids get more opportunities.

I'm interested to hear what people think of the idea. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.



a's picture

Won’t happen

Milo's picture

No I agree won't happen, & bring on Redcliffe Dolfins can not wait to have a local North Brisbane side in the NRL...

The Butcher's picture

I’m against the conference system because if the best 2 teams are from Sydney they won’t play in the grand final and vice versa with the non Sydney teams. I would prefer 2 divisions based on where you finish the previous season and promote the top teams from the bottom division and demote the bottom teams from the top division.

The Thinker's picture

Another concern (I'll just keep adding them)

The Sydney Conference doesn't have to travel all year...they just stay in Sydney and play a grand final in Sydney.

The other conference is played across two countries, three states, and the ACT.

NuL1F3's picture

Sounds like they are pretty much just talking about bringing back NSWRL? I can't say I would be a fan.

The Butcher's picture

You don’t know that I’m sure they’ll play in regional areas to promote the game.
What’s better business class in Qantas to NZ or the Greyhound Express to Dubbo?
Besides it was our competition and we did let you in so be grateful your playing in a premier competition.
QRL(I just spat on the ground).

Davo's picture

Hi all.
Conference idea will only work if teams are divided on their previous season’s merits.
Conference 1: teams placed 1,3,5 etc while Conference 2 has teams 2,4,6 etc.
Teams need to play each other once in a season to set the conferences for the next year.
Ideally they could expand to 20 teams or relocate e.g.Tigers to Adelaide; and Manly to Perth with NRL financial support

bradapple's picture

The conference system completely ruined te super rugby, let's hope it doesn't happen with the nrl!!!

mark ashford's picture

Not sure how I feel about this or if I even understand it. Does it mean that not all teams will play each other at least once during the regular season? A and B teams to only meet if they make the finals? Not sure I like the idea. As Thinker said the B teams would be travelling all over AUS and NZ while the A teams would have it cushy. Sounds like a bit of NSW favouritism to me.

The Thinker's picture

That's correct Mark (although as I say...this is all a bit of a thought bubble at the moment so they haven't really nutted out the detail).

Each team would play everyone in their conference twice. Then you would effectively have two simultaneous finals series for each conference (a top four from each I imagine). Then the winner of each conference meets in the final (aka The Superbowl).

It means the NRL can sell the idea of three grand finals every year. A grand final for each conference and then a 'Superbowl' final.

It has flaws...but there is some merit in the idea too.

mark ashford's picture

I like your explanation and suggestions. Not sure when it's supposed to happen but hope the powers that be put plenty of thought into this.
Don't know how the Canberra/Knights boys will feel being basically moved out of the NSW conference.
We've borrowed lots of practices from the Americans over the years, some good some bad need, to hear more to make up my mind.

mark ashford's picture

If this would mean more money for the NRL, then I guess I'm all for it.
A lot of fans would be disappointed except in NSW. As someone smarter than me once said " you can please some of the people some of the time but not all the people all of the time"
By the way did you read that cheeky post from the Butcher about being allowed into a premier comp? Did give me a chuckle.

The Thinker's picture

Ah yes the Butcher...I enjoy his contributions very much.

I'm sure deep down he knows the NRL are in a much fitter state with the Warriors and the interstate teams taking part.

Another possible plus - Suncorp Stadium probably hosts a Conference Final. It's a plus for me at least :-)

Although they might like to move that final around the country and New Zealand a bit.

GotheFins's picture

20 teams with Perth and Adelaide playing full home and away to make a true national comp
2 divisions with top 4 and bottom 4 relegated and promoted
Will give closer games in both divisions so more excitement
Plus teams with threat of relegation will get more support
As well as teams that would not normally get in 8 now could get better support in challenging for finals
Finals for top 5 or six
Will get more finals so game gets more revenue
Will spread talent but gives more fringe players opportunity

newbie from perth's picture

Hmm, I might be missing the point here but aren’t the initials NRL supposed to stand for “National” Rugby League?

Assuming it does, how can you class it as a true “national” (of an entire nation) competition when sides are not playing against ALL of the teams in that nation?

As others have alluded to, this idea seems to have been “borrowed” from the American football system. Australians are not Americans. Australian football is not American football. What makes the NRL hierarchy think this would be a good idea?

I reckon (maybe) the boffins over at NRL HQ are trying to raise revenue (not a bad idea) but are clutching at straws here. They might need to re-think this and come up with an alternative out-of-the-box alternative if they’re looking for increased revenue. A longer season where everyone plays each team twice (home and away) might be a start 🤔.

So too could a dual league where you have a Premier League and a First Division League. Top 2 of First Division get promoted to Premier League and bottom two from Premier League get relegated to First Division. Yeah, I realise the irony of that insofar as that idea is “borrowed” from soccer but still.

Bottom line is I don’t think the American conference thing would work and I’m not totally sold on the concept. Well, not without some clarification first. Just my 2c worth…

Daniel Isgro 's picture

Andrew Abdo... NRL CEO
Andrew Abdo.. No no no!
Poetry is not my strong point.
Yeah... NRL is a multi million dollar corporation that claims they lost millions through sponsorship due to COVID. The proposed model is designed to make money! AFL will follow. Building towards a UK Premier League relegation system by 2025.
Andrew Abdo... hehehe ;)

Daniel Isgro 's picture

If NSWRL came back would we see the return of North Sydney, Illawarra and West Sydney??? Wow!

Buzz105's picture

I think the NRL has gone from strength to strength with Peter V'landys running things.

However I think the conference system is a very dumb idea. Maybe a few decades down the track if the competition expands to 30+ teams. (pipedream, a PNG team, a team in the pacific islands, Perth, the sunny coast)

I think the conference system might be a way to disguise the fact that we all know that one or two Sydney teams should disappear (either merge or relocate) for the good of the game.

The Butcher's picture

Sydney teams aren’t going anywhere.
They’ve been around the longest and already done their part in forming joint ventures. The NRL is a business and you need to look at performance and currently Sydney teams make up 5 of the top 6 teams. Considering all the factors,There should be no excuse for teams like the Warriors, Newcastle and Brisbane to be in the bottom 8.
Let’s see if the Warriors joined PNG the Knights with the North Sydney Bears and all the Queensland teams merged they could possibly play finals.

Baggy_Gee's picture

Either you do it NFL style, large final series and smaller conferences, or follow the EPL which I have liked for a long while. Top 10 with relegation zone of bottom two, basically miss the finals go back to 2nd tier. It would bring down the costs of "lesser" teams getting a start, make it attractive for Fiji, PNG, Brisbane #2, to begin without having to stump up overs for "prime" talent, the lower cost would also allow the Bulldogs to get their cap in order and start playing consistent football. The conference system is broken in super rugby, because even with the Reds being the best Australian team, they are now level with the also-rans over in NZ. Smaller NFL style conferences with Sydney teams mixed through out allows for the rivalry to play out 6 times a season with conferences of 4, and with the other 12 teams in all the other conferences, split into 2 divisions, you get 18 games before you play outside your conference twice. I don't think it would work as other have pointed out, to little variation for NSWRL, and poor marketing for everyone else. My preference for the 4 conferences would be as follows.
Div 1-
Con 1:
St. George
Div 2-
Con 3:
Con 4:
At the moment your top eight would be
Div 1
Eels v Storm, Roosters v Rabbits
Div 2
Titans v Raiders, Panthers v Warriors
which means we have 4 "good" quality conference finals, leading to the divisional finals being
Div 1
Eels v Rabbits
Div 2
Panthers v Titans
and the "super" final
Panthers v Eels
Div 1 seems a little stacked and people would cry foul that their team lost out, but a one game conference final would put some desperation in the games. But again a North South divide is just a silly idea and V'Landys seems to have his head someplace dark, tight, and smelly to put that forward as a legitimate suggestion.

Arran Morton's picture

I honestly think this is one of the dumbest ideas I've ever heard of come out of NRL central.
How on earth is this going to benefit anybody, especially the fans, by having an American style conference system.
Unless I've got this wrong, surely it would fail simply because you're saying all non-Sydney fans can never watch their teams play a Sydney side except only once whereby they would have to win 'Conference B' to play in the Grand Final.
How utterly brainless is that!
That would be the death knell of the game for me, the game that I love.
When my mighty Cowboys are up against a Sydney side, any Sydney side, I'm more excited than a dog in a butcher's shop.
I prefer watching them play against a Sydney side than against any non-Sydney side any old day of the week - it's the historic Qld v. NSW rivalry, a little bit of Origin every time.
I'd be bored out of my brain in no time and would seriously not bother any more - it's a killer for me and it would be a killer for a huge body of fans I expect - turn that money tap off and see what happens to the game.
In terms of population America is massive which makes the NFL obviously massive so they have to have a conference style system for all the obvious reasons; although a divisional system would be better in my view.
Population wise Australia is tiny which makes the NRL obviously tiny, a conference style system just wouldn't work, nor a divisional system, we just don't have the numbers and you wouldn't think a couple of extra teams is going to make it any more feasible.
Maybe in a 100 years if and when the population grows massively and if the formation of more footy teams matches that growth then we may have perhaps another 20 or more teams kicking a footy around each weekend - but not now and not in the foreseeable future, it just seems silly to me.
I'm all for fattening up revenue streams for the benefit of the game but surely this crazy idea would seriously harm the game. We're simply nowhere near ready for a conference or divisional system - it's just bonkers.
I can't speak for every other footy fan but I would guess that a sizeable majority would be appalled at this nonsensical idea which makes me wonder how much the NRL have thought this one through.
I don't know... it's just like when we have another rule change... just shake my head.

Ed612313's picture

Bring in PNG and put a bit of funding towards there juniors and the numbers will be made up easily.....
Ridiculous PNG keeps getting overlooked.
Plenty of Gold Mines in PNG to fund them and sponsor them also.

Nostraduckus's picture

Gus made a compelling case for the conference system on his podcast, namely that it would greatly help to expand the game internationally. NSW/QLD get to celebrate their final, and then you can have the GF as an exhibition anywhere. Problem is its not exactly 'QLD' and more "Not Sydney". How do you aptly name the conferences so that they are marketable and properly representative? Then you have the issue of travel. Perhaps there needs to be ar ule across the league where the away team is allowed to prepare on the ground the night before, and the home team can only arrive a few hours before kick off?

While we're talking about stealing ideas from the the US, i've always wondered if a skills challenge would fly for the NRL, maybe during Magic Round. Would love to see a sprint challenge between JAC/Paps/Staines/Staggs/Coates/etc. Or try conversions around the field to a clock between Reynolds/Cleary/Flanagan/Lomax. Or The Magic Try (think Slam Dunk Comp) where the coach fields two 9 man teams to showcase a set play resulting in a spectacular try.

Setting aside the conference system, i'd like to see the draw based upon the previous year's results, with top 8 teams playing each other for the first 8 rounds, same with bottom 8.

Christine's picture

Hate to be a bookie but they keep tabs on bigger things ...

Christine's picture

This is not the super bowl this is The nrl , you watch the prices go up even more ...

Christine's picture

We need more consistancey before they go doing anything like this ...

Rob181's picture

I've spent 30 minutes trying to work out how to start a new comment - here's mine...
I got the opportunity to watch Josh Morris console his twin Brett on the season & very likely career ending cruciate tear - these are moments - sad as they are - that the NRL should highlight - the love for a brother - it is marketing gold & something the Morris twins should be damn proud of & make sure they obtain the marketing rights for...
Over to you Channel 9...

The Tide Head's picture

Nine games of NRL every weekend.
Thirty three more matches across the regular season... and finals. Ummm, that's a yes from The Tide Head.
It would be splendid to see one conference made up of only NSW teams... and return of absent foundation teams (circa 1908).

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