Revealed: Hot favourite for new Brisbane NRL team
The battle to become Brisbane's second NRL team has heated up after the Jets and Firehawks declared they could challenge hot favourites the Dolphins in the fight to become Queensland's new franchise.
With the entire NRL in Brisbane for this weekend's Magic Round at Suncorp Stadium, The Courier-Mail has delved deep into the expansion fight and discovered Redcliffe's proposal for the game's 17th licence is the bid to beat in the eyes of influential figures.
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The NRL this week called for expressions of interest from the three bid teams fighting to become Queensland's fourth club from 2023.
The consortia have a month to submit their bid documents before the NRL makes a definitive call on expansion in July.
ARLC chairman Peter V'landys is still awaiting a report into expansion and the bid team proposals will play a key role in determining whether introducing a new team is financially viable.
The NRL also needs the support of free-to-air broadcaster Channel 9 to pursue expansion ahead of the upcoming rights negotiations.
If the numbers stack up, south east Queensland will be home to a new NRL franchise in 2023 and one aspiring club has already presented a compelling case for inclusion.
The Redcliffe Dolphins were founded in 1947 and were a heavyweight of the Brisbane Rugby League, producing greats of the game like Arthur Beetson and Petero Civoniceva.
They have been campaigning for inclusion in the NRL and went close a few years ago as the game's former administration considered winding up the then struggling Cronulla Sharks to introduce Redcliffe.
With a 10,000-seat boutique stadium that could host NRL games, training base and administration headquarters, the Dolphins believe they have the foundations to launch in 2023.
The Dolphins also claim to have a diversified asset base worth more than $100 million and 40,000 leagues club members which would give the NRL certainty around their financial viability and supporter base.
"It would take a phenomenal bid to beat us, we believe we tick the boxes to be Brisbane's second team. We are ready to go," said Dolphins bid chief Terry Reader.
"The whole reason the Dolphins operate is to play rugby league at the highest level. It used to, but it was taken away when the Broncos came into the big league in 1988.
"Everything we have been doing in the background has been building the facilities and infrastructure and investing in the community and rugby league, so that when the opportunity presented itself again, we could be back at the highest level.
"We have been working since last August to have our bid to be Brisbane's second team ready and now we have engaged a professional company to deliver the bid to win us an NRL licence.
"We would come into the NRL as one of the richest clubs in the game. The game would not have to worry about the commercial viability of the club and the fact we have 75 years of history.
"The NRL are aware of what we have up here."
A key consideration for the NRL to take into account is the location of Redcliffe, 40km from Brisbane's CBD, and the scope for growth in the region.
A peninsula-based team also has the potential to alienate much of Brisbane's greater population as opposed to an inner-city club with a broader reach.
The team name is also up for debate with the possibility of the Brisbane or Moreton Bay Dolphins proposed.
"We will be the Dolphins but we want to appeal to the wider Brisbane market," Reader said.
"If we are awarded the licence, we will seek feedback from the public and let them have ownership of what we should be called. We want to represent more than just the Peninsula.
"Redcliffe is not locked in by water, we want to take ownership of the northern part of Brisbane and cover Moreton Bay and the Sunshine Coast corridor.
"It's incumbent upon us to grow the game and have kids coming through to play not only NRL, but State of Origin which is the jewel in the crown for the game."
In February this year, the rival Brisbane Bombers and Ipswich Jets bid teams joined forces to create the Brisbane Jets.
Based in the growing southwest corridor of Brisbane, the Jets believe they are in genuine rugby league heartland and best-placed to build grassroots participation, one of the NRL's key criteria.
They will also be well-placed to confront the AFL's venture into Springfield with the Brisbane Lions.
The Bombers have campaigned for expansion since 2011 and bid chief Nick Livermore said the decision to link with the Jets made them a comprehensive proposal.
"We believe the merger makes us the most well rounded bid," he said.
"The Bombers had a strong corporate focus on maximising southeast Queensland, which is the largest market between Sydney and Singapore and going head-to-head with the Broncos on commerciality.
"The western corridor had a strong focus on grassroots in Ipswich and Toowoomba which is the fastest growing region in Queensland and bringing the two bids together gives us the best of both worlds.
"The NRL cannot ignore the threat of the Brisbane Lions setting up base in Springfield. They have the AFLW premiers as well and they are targeting the western corridor catchment.
"The Brisbane Jets gives the NRL an opportunity to protect and grow rugby league in the largest growth corridor in Brisbane's west, which is going to have several million people by 2050.
"I feel the NRL and the Brisbane Jets have a responsibility to take the next generation and give them a reason to support rugby league."
What the Jets bid lacks compared to their rivals is genuine meat on the bones that the NRL can see right now.
They have not revealed plans for a home base nor do they boast the financial security, assets and infrastructure of the Dolphins and Firehawks.
Livermore and Jets chairman Steve Johnson are confident they have the corporate support to ensure starting a new franchise is a smooth exercise but the NRL will want rock solid guarantees.
The last thing the NRL can risk is a new club needing financial assistance to stay afloat, much like the Gold Coast Titans did within 10 years of joining the competition and the Jets bid will have to be flawless.
The history of the Easts Tigers dates back to 1917 and the club is considered to be one of Queensland's most revered.
Now competing as the Brisbane Tigers, the club from Coorparoo launched an NRL expansion bid as the Brisbane Firehawks to prevent a clash with Sydney's Wests Tigers.
The Firehawks have been the quietest of the three bid teams, going about compiling a proposal they believe will be "revolutionary".
With the backing of Easts Leagues Club and a huge junior base, the Firehawks would be a genuine cross-river rival for the Red Hill-based Broncos.
The Firehawks say they have the backing of $52 million in assets and $23 million in cash holdings, while they will soon begin construction on a $7 million upgrade at Langlands Park.
"The Firehawks bid will be revolutionary - mark my words," said Firehawks bid chief Shane Richardson.
"There is a new opportunity to start with a clean slate and do a modern sporting club in today's day and age. That's the real key to it all.
"There is an enormous opportunity and the club is already heavily involved in junior league. The Firehawks are in the perfect region."
What the Firehawks must convince the NRL of is that their bid will not cannibalise the Broncos' fan base considering their headquarters are only 10km apart.
The Broncos also have ties with city-based feeder clubs Norths, Souths-Logan and Wynnum-Manly, which surround the Tigers.
Richardson, the NRL's former strategy chief, said the Firehawks would attract fans from across the region.
"It's a massive city of more than 2 million people with a huge catchment area that spreads all the way to the Sunshine Coast and west of Ipswich as well," he said.
"You also have a huge spread through to Wynnum and Souths Logan and Ipswich and Toowoomba. That area is a huge league area and always has been.
"The Brisbane Broncos recently signed deals with three feeder clubs because they are wary of the expansion threat.
"A second Brisbane team helps Queensland in the State of Origin arena. It's important we consider the benefits of expansion if we want Origin to remain healthy."
Originally published as Revealed: Hot favourite for new Brisbane NRL team