Expansion, Dolphins, 18th team, Darren Lockyer, reserve grade competitions

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The NRL appears to be full steam ahead to introduce an 18th team into the competition, having only just approved a 17th licence which was won by the Dolphins, announced this week.

The Dolphins will enter the top league in 2023 and the governing body is already planning to add one more team to the NRL in a matter of years.

But rugby league legend Darren Lockyer has implored those in charge of the game to bolster the lower grade competitions in NSW and Queensland before expanding the sport at the top end.

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He believes the NRL could do more to grow the profile of the NSW Cup and Queensland Cup – run separately by the two state’s respective rugby league headquarters – in order to effectively expand the reach of top-flight rugby league, without necessarily adding teams to the elite competition.

“I think the Intrust Cup teams in both respective states, they need to be resourced properly,” Lockyer told Wide World of Sports.

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“If they are stronger in their communities then that helps our game, because NRL teams can’t be everywhere across the country, but you can have your second tier competitions where kids aspire to play there as well.

“There’s no doubt having an NRL team creates an aspiration or an inspiration. But I think we can also invest in the second-tier competitions.

“That’s another way to raise the awareness of games, raise the professionalism and the brand of those particular clubs.

“Creating that pathway for a kid in central Queensland… so what is that right now? And that’s where I think as a whole game, how do we maximise the opportunities for our kids across the country?

“I know the NRL invests in the Intrust Cup, but I think there’s an opportunity there if we want to keep growing our game, you don’t necessarily have to put an NRL team in that market. It’s about enhancing what is already there.

“Make it something that a kid coming through wants to be a part of, which is a segue into the NRL.”

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Lockyer – who is one of Brisbane’s greatest ever players, and is now a Broncos director – welcomed the addition of the Dolphins to the NRL.

Those two clubs will be in direct competition, even sharing Suncorp Stadium as a home venue despite the Dolphins being based at Moreton Daily Stadium north-east of Brisbane.

It means junior players in that area have another NRL team to aspire to, and Lockyer says it will increase competition for the state’s best talent.

“There’s no doubt it makes it harder (it sign the best talent). But I think it also makes you try harder, too,” he said.

“I guess you’ve got to look at your own systems and see how we can do it better. The Dolphins have already got a fanbase, they will attract a fanbase, and it’s a growth area in south-east Queensland.

“We’ve got to do what we do now, but do it better.

“Sometimes what happens at the elite level also impacts the kids coming through in the juniors. If the top team is doing well that obviously helps.”

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