NRL boss Andrew Abdo has once again backed the idea of expanding the competition to include a second New Zealand-based team.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday Abdo said the traditional case against a second team from New Zealand - that it would not bring significant revenue to the league - is now moot after the NRL's recent broadcasting deal with Sky NZ saw TV rights income increase 70 per cent to over $30m a year until the end of 2027.
"There's no doubt New Zealand is an enormous market for us," he said. "Some of our best players in recent years have come from New Zealand and we're certainly committed to investing in the region and seeing more talent unlocked and emerge through pathways systems. New Zealand is a critical component of our competition," Abdo said.
"In particular, the commission is focused on innovative measures to enhance the pathways systems and it's something our clubs are focused on as well."
In October last year, the NRL announced the addition of the Brisbane-based Dolphins to the league from 2023, becoming the first new NRL team since the Gold Coast Titans were admitted in 2007.
Abdo has said previously that a 17th team would not be the end point for the league in his mind, with an 18th team making perfect sense; especially if it's based in New Zealand and drawing from a player pool largely outside of Australia where the Dolphins have found it difficult to build a squad.
"An 18th team allows you to think about what we might want to do about expanding in New Zealand. Having two teams in New Zealand creates a tribalism and a new rivalry in New Zealand," Abdo said in April 2021.
Abdo also mentioned that having 18 teams opened the league up to the possibility of running two separate pools; much like the NBA which is split into the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference.
"It also gives you options around pools because you can have two pools of nine teams. As you see with some of the big US sports, as you grow your competition and the scale of the number of teams, you can create a dynamic around who plays who and ultimately create more rivalries in regional areas and have competitions within competitions."
However, any application to the league from a second New Zealand-based team would be countered by interests from both Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea officially launched a bid to join the NRL earlier this week, with backing from the country's government.
"Our PNG NRL bid team is ready. The time to start the journey is now. We can't wait any longer," Papua New Guinea Sports Minister Wesley Raminai said on Thursday, per the ABC.
Also floated as serious contending ideas for an 18th team are a revival of the North Sydney Bears - one of the foundation clubs in 1908 that was pushed out of competition in 1999 - as well as a Perth-based team.
Meanwhile, former Kangaroos and NRL star Matthew Johns said in October that if a Wellington or Christchurch-based team was added to the NRL, he would like to see it comprised of players from around the Pacific, including Papua New Guinea.
"Think of the side you could get out of Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Cook Islands," Johns told SEN.
"You could have a Pacific nations side based in Wellington that was representative of the Pacific."