The success of the North Queensland Cowboys has only strengthened the case for a central Queensland team to join the NRL, according to bid chairman Geoff Murphy.
Despite ARL Commission boss John Grant’s claims last week that a team from south-east Queensland is in line to become the NRL’s 17th club, Murphy says the push for a side based out of Rockhampton is still very much alive.
Murphy, a leading central Queensland business figure, said he sought immediate clarification from Grant following his comments and was told no decisions regarding NRL expansion will be made until Shane Richardson’s whole-of-game review is completed.
And just as well – Murphy insists a Rockhampton team would take the region by storm, the same way the Cowboys have captured hearts throughout the north of Queensland.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Murphy told AAP.
“We are the heartland of rugby league.
“They’re now saying Townsville is, and they’re certainly part of that.
“But we’re more heartland than Townsville are. We have nothing else. We don’t have any other sports, aside from rugby league.”
Grant told reporters at a revealing press conference in Brisbane last week rugby league was “not taking advantage” of its dominance in Queensland and that another team from the south-east was part of the provisions in the new broadcast agreement with Channel Nine, which begins in 2018.
Murphy said Grant told him those comments were his own personal views, not those of the NRL.
“I don’t think there’s any way they will go for just one team – it won’t be just 17, it will certainly be 18,” Murphy said.
“I’d be hopeful that because Queensland’s so underdone that we can have two more teams in Queensland, then I could see maybe one down in the south-east corner and one in central Queensland.
“We’ve got a better argument than New Zealand, Central Coast and Perth.”
Murphy said the viability of a central Queensland side was not in question, with the region enjoying a fractionally greater population than Townsville when accounting for a four-hour travel radius.
“In the last few days, (Johnathan) Thurston has made comments about what difference it makes playing at home and how far their supporters travel for games,” he said.
“Four hours, when you get away from the south-east corner, is nothing to drive. We have the same situation in Rockhampton.”
Murphy also revealed his proposal to invest in the NRL-owned Gold Coast Titans, with a view to playing several games per year in Rockhampton, has fallen flat.
“I’ve said all along if I have to relocate a team or get involved with another team and play games in Rockhampton, I’d look at that. I’m open to anything,” he said.