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NRL floats possible shift to conferences, including second NZ-based team

The NRL is considering the biggest shake up in the competition's 113-year history, floating the possibility of conference systems to several clubs.

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The former NRL boss says New Zealand is capable of housing a second rugby league franchise. Source: 1 NEWS

NRL heavies have met with almost half of the competition's clubs in recent weeks, sharing a vision for the league's future as it pushes towards expansion.

It's understood one strategy mentioned to clubs in their board meetings is that of a Sydney and non-Sydney conference, which would tie into an eventual 18-team competition.

The idea forms part of a study into the sport's future look, which includes the expected introduction of a second Brisbane team in 2023.

An 18th team would then follow shortly after, with New Zealand floated as one option while Perth would likely want to push for that spot as well.

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Rumours continue to swirl around whether the competition will expand or not. Source: 1 Sport

Former NRL CEO David Moffett told 1 NEWS New Zealand could definitely house a second professional rugby league team but it would need to be based in the South Island.

"Christchurch have a strong backing down here," Moffett said.

"It has to be Christchurch."

NRL officials have then told clubs that would allow for nine-team conferences to become an option in several years' time, with an even number of teams in and out of Sydney.

The concept has a number of advantages, particularly around the guarantee of a maximum number of all-Sydney games each year.

The idea of conferences was first seriously floated during last year's COVID-19 shutdown, as the game tried to restart safely during a shortened season.

But while administrators eventually took a different option, they never completely went away from the idea.

It would mean a fairer draw given the randomness around which teams play each other twice under the current system.

For instance, Newcastle only play five matches against last year's top-four sides in 2021, while Brisbane have eight such games.

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

However there are already downsides being pointed out by some clubs.

The travel factor would be immense for the likes of Newcastle and Canberra, who would spend every third week headed interstate.

In comparison, Sydney teams would have to leave the NSW/ACT area just four or five times a year.

It could also wipe out the possibility of an all-Sydney grand final, given the model would likely have a Super Bowl style decider with the winners of the two conferences.

However the counter to that would be a blockbuster preliminary final in Sydney, which has traditionally struggled to sell out in recent years.

There is also the potential that the finals could still have a top-eight system, if the NRL moved away from the Super Bowl system.