NRL open to expansion in 2025, PNG a legitimate option

The NRL could expand again as soon as 2025 with the ARL Commission looking at bringing a Pacific side into the league within two years.

The topic of expansion remains firmly on the table after the addition of the Dolphins this season, with the NRL making no secret of its desire to go to 18 teams.

If the league decides to bring an extra team into the league in 2025, an announcement will have to be made this year.

A Perth franchise has long been mooted as the most likely candidate with WA keen to return to the national competition for the best part of two decades.

A second New Zealand team is also another an option along with the Queensland bid teams who missed out on expansion in 2023.

But Commission chair Peter V'landys on Saturday gave the strongest indication yet a long-heralded Pacific team could be the frontrunner to fill the spot.

The move has been significantly backed by the Australian government, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese raising the issue in Papua New Guinea parliament in January.

Deputy PM Richard Marles also told media in Port Moresby last year "now is the time" for an NRL side, with a desire to strengthen links with Australia in the region.

V'landys said if the next expansion option was to be the Papua New Guinea-Pasifika bid, they would likely enter the competition in 2025.

"The Federal Government are very keen for us to look at the Papua New Guinea/Pasifika solution, where there would be a PNG team with all the Pacific nations," V'landys told The Continuous Call team.

"We'll certainly out of respect to the government look at that. And that would be 2025 if that was to occur.

"But there are plenty of other options."

Beyond the option of a Pasifika side, V'landys said he was yet to decide when the next round of expansion will be.

A move in 2025 would be in line with two additional teams to the women's competition and in the same Collective Bargaining Agreement cycle as the Dolphins' entry this year.

In contrast, a move to 18 teams in 2027 would give the playing stocks extra time to grow out of this season's expansion and fall into line with the start of the next TV deal.

"We haven't put a time on it. It could be in 2025 or it could be in 2027 when the broadcast contract comes up for renewal," V'landys said.

"We're going to look hard at the Dolphins situation to see what we have done right and what we have done wrong, and if there's enough players to have that 18th team.

"We're not rushing it, but we're certainly looking at it."