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Dolphins land NRL expansion franchise

The NRL Premiership will expand to 17 teams from the 2023 season after the Australian Rugby League Commission today (Wednesday) approved the grant of a new licence to the Redcliffe Dolphins.

The Queensland-based team, which was founded in 1947, fended off competition from the Firehawks (Easts Tigers) and Jets (Ipswich) to become the NRL’s second Brisbane club. Today’s announcement marks the first time the NRL has expanded since 2007, when the Gold Coast Titans were admitted to the League.

The ARLC approved both the expansion of the competition and the Dolphins, which will drop Redcliffe from their official moniker, as the successful bid for the 17th licence after accepting the recommendation of the Expansion Bid Assessment Committee.

The League said the decision is part of the ARLC’s overall plan to grow the game in all parts of Queensland. It will work with the Queensland Rugby League, the Brisbane Broncos, Titans, North Queensland Cowboys and now the Dolphins to ensure it has a presence across the state, investing in participation and pathways for men and women for the future.

To encourage growth in participation and pathways across southeast Queensland, the Dolphins have agreed to invest A$1m (£540,000/€637,000/$736,000) per annum on grassroots rugby league and pathways as well as an additional A$1m per annum on women’s rugby league pathways and development. The club will be required to submit an annual budget for Commission approval which sets out how the A$2m in funding will be spent each year.

The expanded 17-team competition will see the NRL Premiership become a 26-round competition with every team continuing to play 24 games. All teams will receive two byes during the season with the total number of regular season games increasing from 192 to 204.

ARLC chairman Peter V’landys said the Commission’s decision was a landmark moment in the game’s history. “Rugby League is part of Queensland’s DNA and to have four teams based in Queensland will further strengthen our game as the No.1 sport in the state,” he said.

“The key to long term success is growth. By growing the NRL Telstra Premiership we create more fans, encourage more participants and increase commercial investment in rugby league. Expansion is also a really important part of our participation strategy.

“It will be a condition of the licence that the Dolphins spend A$2m every year on participation and growing the women’s game in Southeast Queensland. Our focus over the next year is revitalising our participation strategy and the Dolphins will be an important part of that in Queensland.”

The Dolphins will be based at Moreton Daily Stadium, which was used for NRL matches this season, but is set to play most of its home games at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. In January, the Dolphins stepped up their efforts to secure NRL status by signing a naming rights sponsor for Dolphin Stadium.

The Dolphins agreed a three-year deal with not-for-profit group Moreton Bay Region Industry and Tourism (MBRIT), which saw its home (pictured) called Moreton Daily Stadium. Moreton Daily is a free community news website for the Moreton Bay Region, which also publishes a community newspaper called Dolphins News, in partnership with the club.

In September 2020, Dolphins chairman Bob Jones said the organisation was “NRL ready” after work was completed to upgrade its stadium as part of an effort to land a second NRL team for Brisbane.

The Dolphins NRL Bid was said to be complete following the opening of the final grandstand at Dolphin Stadium. The venue, which first opened in 1979, was redeveloped to a capacity of 11,500, 10,000 of which is seated.

V’landys said the Commission approved the expanded competition because it added value to the competition. He added today: “Our priority as a Commission was firstly to ensure all 16 clubs came through the pandemic financially secure and we have achieved that.

“This decision adds substantial value to the game which will benefit all existing clubs. I would like to acknowledge our broadcast partner Fox Sports who have agreed to an enhanced broadcast agreement from 2023 to 2027.”

Image: Dolphins NRL Bid