NRL open to 18 teams in future after Dolphins get green light for 2023

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The addition of the Dolphins as the 17th team will almost certainly spark more expansion talks, with the NRL said to be open to the prospect of adding further franchises to its competition in the future.

The Redcliffe-based Dolphins pipped the Jets and Firehawks for the 17th licence, with the Dolphins becoming the first team added to the league since the Gold Coast Titans were introduced in 2007.

It is unlikely there will be further additions before the next broadcast deal expires at the end of 2028 but the NRL is said to be keen on adding an 18th team in the coming years.

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said rugby league was on track for growth after a period of consolidation due to the impact of COVID-19.

“A move from 16 to 17 is a big move,” Abdo said. “We want a team that can compete from day one and we want to make sure the team is financially viable. We want this to be incredibly successful.

“Equally we will have consideration to eventually moving from 17 to 18. I don’t know what that timeline looks like. That will be a factor of the success of the 17th team and a factor of which market is right, and whether the economics stack up.

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“But 17 is a natural stepping stone to 18. At 18 we have another fixture and that provides another opportunity for our fans, another 80 minutes of footy, another match in the round, another opportunity to grow fans in another market.”

The new franchise satisfied several financial requirements, including being able to produce a bank guarantee of $50 million over the course of the next five years to prove the team will be sustainable moving forward.

The Dolphins have agreed to terms for Wayne Bennett to become their inaugural coach and will now become big players in the transfer market as a several free agents prepare to test their value from November 1.

The Dolphins catchment area runs from northern Brisbane, through Moreton Bay and linking to the Sunshine Coast – and has more than 10,000 registered junior players.

The expanded 17-team competition will see the NRL Telstra 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.

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