NRL floats idea of ​​conference system in potentially huge shake-up for rugby league | NRL

The NRL is eyeing the biggest shake-up in the competition’s 113-year history, offering the possibility of multi-club conference systems. League officials have met nearly half of the competition’s clubs in recent weeks, sharing a vision for the league’s future as it pushes for expansion.

It is understood that a strategy mentioned to the clubs during their board meetings is that of a Sydney and non-Sydney conference, which would be linked to a possible 18-team competition. The idea is part of a study into the future of the sport, which includes the planned introduction of a second Brisbane team in 2023.

An 18th team would then follow soon after, with New Zealand a floating option while Perth would likely want to push for that spot as well. NRL officials have told clubs that nine-team conferences will then become an option in several years’ time, with an even number of teams moving in and out of Sydney.

The concept has many advantages, particularly around the guarantee of a maximum number of 100% Sydney matches each year.

The idea of ​​conferences was first floated in earnest last year during the Covid-19 shutdown, as the game tried to restart safely during a shortened season. But while the directors ultimately settled on a different option, they never quite walked away from the idea.

This would mean a fairer draw given the randomness around which teams compete twice in the current system. For example, Newcastle are only playing five games against last year’s top four teams in 2021, while Brisbane have eight.

Other positives include the 25 round model, there would be room for Magic Round, meaning each team still has 12 home games. There could also be room for each team to play one game in regional areas each season.

However, there are already downsides reported by some clubs. The travel factor would be immense for teams such as Newcastle and Canberra, who would spend every three weeks heading for the motorway. By comparison, Sydney teams are only expected to leave the NSW/ACT area four or five times a year.

It could also wipe out the possibility of a grand final entirely in Sydney, given that the model would likely have a Super Bowl-style decider with the winners of both conferences. The counterweight would be a blockbuster preliminary final in Sydney, which has traditionally struggled to sell out in recent years. It’s also possible the Finals will still have a top-eight system, should the NRL move away from the Super Bowl system.

Michael P. Boser