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By Michael Chammas

Originally from

The NRL is on the verge of making the biggest change to its competition in 14 years, moving ahead with plans to add a 17th team in time for the 2023 season.

The Herald can reveal the ARL Commission will make a decision on a potential second Brisbane team by June.

V’landys and NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo will need to find an additional $12 million as part of its distribution to the clubs, but a 25 per cent reduction in staff at the end of last year will save around $50 million a year.

The Herald last year reported that V’landys and Abdo travelled to the United States on a] secret trip where it is believed they received the blessing for expansion from News Corp co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch, who last year rubber-stamped Foxtel’s pay television rights extension until 2027.

The NRL is yet to secure a free-to-air television deal beyond 2022, but the code believes adding a new team into the competition for the first time since the Gold Coast Titans were accepted in 2007 will be of interest to Nine Entertainment Co.

The NRL is waiting on a business model from senior strategic projects manager Lachlan Smith in the next three months before making a final decision, however V’landys is adamant that 2023 – the first year of the next players CBA – is within reach and will be a major topic of discussion when the commission gathers later this month.

“It’s very realistic to say that we’ll have a second team in Brisbane in 2023,” V’landys told the Herald. “From what I’ve seen and the presentations that have been given to me, they are well advanced. If I said 2022 they’d be ready. They’ve been doing work for years. There’s no reason why we can’t be up and running in 2023.

“The one thing that I am impressed with is how advanced these bids are. They are not mucking around. They are serious. If we came to a decision in June this year, that would give them a year and a half. It’s plenty of time. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen mid-this year.

“I’m not going to do it if it’s going to hurt the game. It’s got to benefit the game. To benefit the game, it can’t cannibalise the Titans and Broncos, and I don’t think it will, just like how Parramatta doesn’t cannibalise Penrith. One of the good things is that we still haven’t signed our free-to-air deal. We insured ourselves with our pay TV deal. The cream is going to be the free-to-air deal. For 2023, we need to have all our strategies in place soon for our free-to-air deal.”

The bids include the Brisbane Bombers, Brisbane Firehawks (Easts Tigers), Ipswich and Redcliffe Dolphins. The news of V’landys’ intention will leave prospective clubs scrambling for two of the greatest coaches of the modern era, with both Wayne Bennett and Craig Bellamy off contract at the end of the year and in a position to spend 2022 building a roster ready to compete for a title the following year.

That could leave the Storm feeling a little uneasy in the player market, given that they have Ryan Papenhuyzen, Harry Grant and Brandon Smith all free to open negotiations for the 2023 season from November 1. The Rabbitohs could also be in a similar position with Adam Reynolds, who is off contract at the end of this year, and Cody Walker the following season.

A new team in 2023 will have major ramifications on the player transfer market. Newcastle superstar Kalyn Ponga, Gold Coast livewire AJ Brimson, Parramatta skipper Clint Gutherson, Canberra hooker Josh Hodgson, Penrith wrecking ball Viliame Kikau and Eels five-eighth Dylan Brown are among the available players that would be high on the recruitment list of the successful franchise.

V’landys believes the addition of former Queensland government minister Kate Jones to the ARL Commission at the end of last year will be an asset for the NRL in regards to expansion in Brisbane.

“There are five big issues on the commission’s timetable at the moment,” V’landys said. “In no particular order, one is concussion and the welfare of the player. Two is going back to three grades. Three is the integrity of the game. Four is expansion in Brisbane. And five goes hand in hand with expansion and that is participation.”

“Participation to us is everything. One of the reasons we want the team in Brisbane is because of participation. I want to expand because of participation. We’ve been very lucky in my view to able to procure Kate Jones as a board member because she’s been inspirational in participation. She’s actually been made chair of a committee to look at participation.

“What she wants to do is have a presence in the education departments. One of the things that happens in primary schools now, it’s mainly female teachers. They don’t traditionally become rugby league coaches. So we need a program to train these primary school teachers into being rugby league coaches. You can only do that with a real good joint venture with the education department.”