Credit / Getty Images (Mark Kolbe)
The NRL continues to express interest in a second NZ club joining the Aussie competition, once coach Wayne Bennett's Dolphins expand the competition to 17 teams next year, a report today in the Sydney Morning Herald says.
It says NRL boss Andrew Abdo has indicated NZ is the most likely source of an 18th team.
“There’s no doubt New Zealand is an enormous market for us,” Abdo says in the Sydney Morning Herald report.
“Some of our best players in recent years have come from New Zealand and we’re certainly committed to investing in the region and seeing more talent unlocked and emerge through pathways systems. New Zealand is a critical component of our competition."
Today's remarks double-down on Abdo's pitch for a second NZ-based team in April last year.
"An 18th team allows you to think about what we might want to do about expanding in New Zealand. Having two teams in New Zealand creates a tribalism and a new rivalry in New Zealand."
In the past, there has been talk of a Wellington-based team, however, an 18th team is unlikely in any event before the end of the 2027 season when the current broadcast agreement ends.
A NZ bid will also have to compete with a pitch from PNG, who signalled this week that they are keen on the 18th spot, with the potential to link with Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
“We know there are other teams within Australia and New Zealand that have put their hand up. It will be a competitive process. For us, it’s about getting our work done, so we can put in a bid that can compete and be selected to be the 18th team in the NRL. We are confident we can do that,” PNG Rugby League chair Sandis Tsaka said.
In the meantime, Abdo says the NRL's immediate focus is on ensuring the Dolphins have a smooth introduction.
“In terms of expansion, our priority is ensuring the Dolphins enter the competition successfully and a successful 17-team competition.
“Beyond that, the commission is open to looking at 18 teams down the track and open-minded about the location of potential new markets.”