The NRL is expected announce it is expanding to a 17-team competition in the very near future.
The new addition will be the first team to enter the competition in 14 years. The Gold Coast Titans joined the NRL in 2007.
There are three bidders, all of whom have made presentations to the NRL this week.
With a decision imminent, here’s what you need to know about expansion.
When is the 17th team going to happen?
The NRL will make the announcement this week, with the 16 existing clubs told on Thursday.
However, it will take a bit longer than that to get a whole new team up and running.
The exact time frame will depend on which team is chosen, but Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V’landys says it will either be in time for the 2023 or 2024 season.
Which teams are in the running?
There are three teams in contention for the 17th licence — all in south-east Queensland.
They are the Brisbane Firehawks, the Brisbane Jets and the Redcliffe Dolphins.
The Brisbane Firehawks are backed by the Easts Tigers club, which is based in the inner-south Brisbane suburb of Stones Corner.
Easts currently play in the Queensland Cup out of their Langlands Park stadium, which would be redeveloped and turned into a centre of excellence, however, the Firehawks would play out of Lang Park.
The Jets are a combination of two previous bids, from the Brisbane Bombers and Western Corridor, and are closely tied to the Queensland Cup side The Ipswich Jets.
They too hope to play most of their games at Lang Park, but are hoping to redevelop North Ipswich Reserve into a 20,000-capacity venue in the Ipswich CBD.
The Dolphins currently play in the Queensland Cup at their own 10,000-seat stadium on the Redcliffe Peninsula, 35km north of Brisbane.
The club has its own lucrative leagues club, an established identity and history, separation from Brisbane and a huge pile of cash behind it, making it the favourite.
Why those teams?
The NRL has long targeted Brisbane as a potential location for expansion.
The Brisbane Broncos have long enjoyed their status as the one team in town and a new rival could help shake things up considerably in one of rugby league’s biggest markets.
One of the key reasons these bids have made the cut is for financial reasons.
The ARLC has convinced the 16 existing teams that the financial case stacks up for another team to come in — and these bids have the financial clout necessary to ensure they would be a success.
V’landys also says a key part of any new team will be to drive new supporters, not just steal them from an existing fan base.
Who is going to be coach?
Wayne Bennett has been linked heavily with the role of head coach, regardless of who ends up winning the bid.
The 71-year-old said he was “not finished yet” after leading Souths to Sunday’s grand final, where they fell to a 14-12 defeat against Penrith.
He remained typically tight-lipped about his plans, though, in the immediate aftermath of this year’s decider.
“I’ve told you a thousand times … when I know what the plan is I will let you know,” he said, adding that he had “a number of options on the table”.
Who is going to play for them?
Some of this is going to come down to when the team enters the competition, but some big Queensland names have already been linked to the expansion side.
Cameron Munster has regularly been linked to the new side, saying publicly he would be keen to head back to Queensland to help out any new team, although he is currently tied to the Storm until the end of the 2023 season.
If the team gets the green light to enter the NRL in 2023 as expected, there will be a number of free agents available to it.
Queensland Origin players Christian Welch and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui will both be free agents by that time.
Another Origin star, Kalyn Ponga, is not fully locked in to 2023 at Newcastle.
The new team can start recruitment on November 1 for any players off-contract in 2022.
What’s the deal with the News Corp vs Channel Nine fight?
There are a couple of things to remember here.
Nine runs news websites such as The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and holds the free-to-air broadcast rights to the NRL.
News Corp run websites such as The Courier-Mail, The Daily Telegraph and news.com.au, while also holding the subscription broadcast rights to the NRL through Kayo Sports and Fox Sports.
Crucially, it also holds a 68.87 per cent share in the Brisbane Broncos.
In a Sydney Morning Herald report from October 4, a claim was made that the NRL had struck a deal with News Corp that would see the media company inject $75m into rugby league over five years, on the proviso the NRL would reduce the number of Broncos games on free-to-air broadcasts by up to 25 per cent.
So why would News Corp want to strike a deal like that? The argument is that should an expansion team be brought in, the Broncos would no longer be the only NRL team in Brisbane and there would be the the potential for lost revenue. To make up for that lost revenue, an agreement would be struck to broadcast the Broncos on the subscription-only channels more often, which would encourage fans to pay to watch, making up the potential shortfall.
The report suggests the alleged deal has come as a “shock” to Nine.
News Corp, however, has said the deal does not even exist.
It responded with its own article, saying there were no conditions attached to the updated broadcast deal and there was no agreement to reduce Broncos games on free-to-air television.
News Corp also reported that a new 17th franchise would be worth between $85 million to 100 million to the NRL.