Western Reds

We could find out as soon as next month where the NRL is going to base its next expansion team and at this stage it looks like it will probably be either Papua New Guinea (PNG) or Perth.

According to most rugby league pundits, PNG looks to have the inside running, but if it bucks that trend and does decide to go to Western Australia, the NRL would be setting up shop in a place that not unlike New Guinea is familiar with rugby league.

The game has been around in WA since 1948 when the Western Australia Rugby League (WARL) was formed. There were four clubs including Fremantle, Perth, South Perth and Cottesloe that founded the league. A fifth club, Palmyra, dropped out after a couple of rounds in the first season.

Before that, the Great Britain ‘Indomitables’ played a game in Perth in 1946. The GB side was split into two teams that played each other.

The sport eventually developed regional competitions across the state. Nowadays, there’s the NRLWA Fuel to Go and Play Premiership which consists of five men’s teams, as well as women’s and junior sides.

But Perth, or WA in general, is probably best known for being home to its first professional rugby league side, the Western Reds.

That club was founded in 1992 and started playing in the Australian Rugby League (ARL) in 1995 before defecting to the ARL’s rival competition, Super League, in 1997. That’s when it changed its name to the Perth Reds.

At the end of the ’97 season, the two opposing leagues put aside their differences, which had ended up in court, and united to form what we now know as the National Rugby League (NRL). However, as part of that deal, the Perth Reds were shut down mainly because of financial reasons. They carried a lot of debt from paying the airfares of visiting teams.

After that, the WA Reds played in the SG Ball Cup from 2006 to 2011. So, yes, it has been a while since Perth has had a team playing in a national pro competition.

On a positive note for the code, there have been State of Origin games hosted in Perth which have either been sellouts or close to it in the last five years.

The WARL wants to be part of the NRL’s expansion plans and for some time has been touting its West Coast Pirates club as a consideration. But the option that has gained the most traction in recent times, at least as far as the NRL is concerned, is the idea of relocating the North Sydney Bears to Perth. The Bears dropped out of the NRL in 1999 and have been competing in the lower grade competitions in New South Wales since then.

It’s seen as a Perth Bears joint venture operating under what’s referred to as a ‘Two Histories, One Future’ model. It would be kind of like how South Melbourne transitioned into the Sydney Swans in the AFL. It would mean the Bears would have a full-time franchise in Perth that would recognize the club’s Sydney-based origins.

The plan would be for the Bears to play their home games at HBF Park, which the WA government apparently has pledged to pay to upgrade, with one or two games at their original home ground of North Sydney Oval.

Last month, Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V’landys was quoted as saying, “reviving the North Sydney Bears as a Perth-based club is the commission’s preferred option for its latest expansion.”

Really? That has since been overshadowed by a couple of things. Reports have surfaced that the Australian government is ready to give the NRL $600 million for the New Guinea option, plus the guy leading the Perth consortium backing a WA franchise has said they’re not sold on the idea of linking with the Bears.

Peter Cummins told the Sydney Moring Herald people in the consortium think the Perth NRL franchise should be a stand-alone team.

Whether or not a Perth team is paired with the Bears, or the Newtown Jets, or any other club, if the NRL is serious about wanting to be seen as a legitimate national competition, WA is the next logical choice. That would mean putting Perth ahead of PNG and New Zealand where there is some babbling about setting up a second NRL team.

As things stand now, the AFL and even A-League soccer are true national competitions whereas the NRL is not.

Earlier this year, NRL coaches were asked what they thought about setting up a new team in WA and more than half of them reportedly said they thought it would be a good idea.

One of them was Wayne Bennett who said he thinks it’s hard to have a national competition if Perth isn’t in it.

He has a very valid point doesn’t he.

Brian is a strong and effective communicator with more than 30 years’ experience in broadcast and electronic media. He has been writing for Rugby League Planet since 2012 and is frequently the first reporter to break news stories about the sport. He has been our North American correspondent reporting on news in the US, Canada and Jamaica covering everything from league standings to strategy analysis to breaking news on key trades to editorials and colourful features on athletes. He is now writing about rugby league on a broader scale to cover developments around the globe. An accomplished storyteller, Brian started his career in Australian radio, before moving to the United States. He is an experienced podcast host and producer and is also a successful TV commentator having done play-by-play and analysis for ESPN, FOX Sports and the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) among others. Brian has his own YouTube channel @brianlowe5567 where he posts his interviews for Rugby League Planet. Be sure to check it out and subscribe.