NRL's 17th team a stepping stone to 18

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo is already talking of an 18th NRL team with the Dolphins approved as the 17th.
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo is already talking of an 18th NRL team with the Dolphins approved as the 17th.

The NRL has already set its sights on expansion to 18 teams, with CEO Andrew Abdo declaring the Dolphins' addition a "natural stepping stone".

The league's move to 17 teams for 2023 confirmed on Wednesday will bring with it 12 extra games, allowing the schedule to extend into a 26th round, with two byes for each club.

Abdo is also eying off another logistical advantages, including a reduction in five-day turnarounds and what he claims will be a more even competition.

But there is little doubt that a 17-team competition is not the end game.

If the NRL was to go to 18, it would allow the league to move to 225 games a year, allow an extra timeslot in each weekend and potentially open the door for competition conferences.

"Seventeen is a natural stepping stone to 18," Abdo said.

"At 18 we have another fixture, that provides a whole other opportunity for our fans.

"Another 80 minutes of footy, another match in the round, another opportunity to grow fans in another market.

"It will always have to stack up, we want to focus on the women's game and want to focus on a successful 17th team inclusion in 2023.

"And in the background we will be thinking about growth."

Abdo would not put a timeline on the next expansion process, but the next broadcast deal after 2023 is scheduled to begin in 2028.

Where the NRL choose to expand next is also up in the air.

Abdo on Wednesday praised the Brisbane Firehawks and Brisbane Jets bids after they lost out to the Redcliffe-based Dolphins, but it remains to be seen if a fifth club in Queensland would be an option.

Neither club made expansive comments on Wednesday regarding another push for a license.

Perth would no doubt make their case, have gone public earlier this year with their desire to be the 18th team after Super League killed off expansion attempts in the west in 1995.

A second New Zealand side was denied for 2007, while Abdo floated the Pacific Islands as another option on Wednesday.

"Each of (the losing bids) could have justifiably qualified to run a successful NRL team. So we are spoilt for choice," Abdo said.

"Those considerations we will look at but we have an open mind.

"We do what's right for the game, and what is right for the growth of the game overall.

"We need to consider all parts of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific when thinking about expansion.

"Again it will be data driven, rigorous and for the right reasons."

Meanwhile an onus will be put on the Dolphins to assist with the growth of the women's game, but they are not likely to be considered in the next round of NRLW expansion.

Australian Associated Press