'The thirst for it is healthy' - Cameron Smith backs Perth for 2022 NRL expansion




Melbourne great Cameron Smith believes there's enough "thirst" for Perth to have an NRL franchise of their own, but says it would only thrive if the team enjoys success from the outset.

Storm skipper Cameron Smith celebrates his drop goal.

Source: Getty

Perth are among the contenders to land an NRL side if the league decides to expand at the end of the current broadcast deal in 2022.

Smith, who debuted for the Storm in 2002, knows first-hand how hard it can be for an NRL franchise to win over fans in an AFL heartland.

The Storm's remarkable on-field success helped them overcome that hurdle.

Melbourne entered the newly-formed NRL in 1998, and won a premiership a year later.

They also won the title in 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2017. They were later stripped of their 2007 and 2009 titles because of serious salary cap breaches.

Despite that controversy, Melbourne's ability to maintain a remarkable level of sustained success have helped them build a foothold in the AFL-dominated Melbourne market.

Perth is also dominated by AFL - a battle rugby union side Western Force were never able to overcome due to their lack of success.

The Force boasted huge crowds in their first few years. But season after season of poor results soon saw those crowds dwindle, until they were axed last year because of financial reasons.

Smith is in Perth this week preparing for Saturday's clash with the Bulldogs at the new $1.5 billion stadium.

The 34-year-old thinks there's enough depth in NRL ranks to expand with a team based in Perth.

But he said the new team would need to be set up to succeed from the outset, rather than go through a slow build.

"Thinking back to when I first started in 2002, there wasn't a whole lot of knowledge around rugby league in Melbourne and Victoria," Smith said.

"Not many people knew about the Melbourne Storm or who played for them.

"But going on the success we've had, all of the players who play for our club, they get noticed when they walk down the street.

"If they go to a cafe or a shopping centre, people say G'day to them.

"At the end of the day, the popularity or a following of any team or any code is built on success, and how much you have of it.

"So it would be important that if a team was to start up over here, they'd need to have a bit of success early."

Smith felt the time was right to expand the game outside of its traditional heartlands.

"I think the thirst for it is healthy," he said.

Perth haven't had a professional rugby league side since the demise of the Perth Reds at the end of 1997 in the wake of the Super League war.

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