The biggest talking point in the rugby league is the NRL’s next moves to grow the game. Speculation around strategies involving the expansion, relocation or mergers of teams has left many league supporters nervous about the future of their teams.
Since rugby league became fully professional during the mid-90’s there has always been a tug of war between the opinion of die-hard fans and NRL which transitioned into a business drawing billions in revenues.
An often forgotten element is the grass roots fan who offers a true perspective of what is happening in the trenches. I sat down with Troy Worner known as NRL's most dedicated fan on the podcast for in-depth look into the hot topic.
As a purist of the game you sense a hesitation and uneasiness in Worner when the words of relocation and mergers hover. “I would be devastated if Parramatta got relocated to Perth so to speak. I would still support them because they’re my team I just wouldn’t get to all the games”, said Warner who attended all 25 of Parramatta’s matches in 2018.
Another dilemma for the NRL in merger discussions is the rivalry amongst fans and clubs in close proximity in Sydney. Worner recalling his memories of merger rumours from the early 2000’s. “Back in the day before St George and the West Tigers merged there was talk of Parramatta merging with Penrith or the Tigers. There was some worrying times when there was that talk. It would be difficult to support the Parramatta Tigers”.
With 9 teams out of 16 located out of Sydney there is increasing pressure on the NRL to spread these clubs to outside of just the East coast of Australia. “I’d go for Perth and Central Coast. Central Coast has a ready-made stadium and I’d like to see the Bears come back. Back in the day I didn’t think it was fair for any team to be kicked especially the inaugural clubs”, Worner said.
Now the NRL face a major dilemma. They want to create a truly national competition but in turn may potentially lose their grass root fans. It’s an emotional topic with many arguing they have tried expanding to Perth, Adelaide and a second team in Brisbane and failed. So what has convinced them it will be different this time?
On what the fans want Worner leaving a simple message “A game day experience not just going to the NRL game. But outside the stadium having activities like music, food and drink to make it like a meeting place and see three games on game day”.
Seems quite a simple message from the fans but the balls now in the NRL court, what will they do with so many questions to answer.