The Brisbane Firehawks, along with the Brisbane Jets and Redcliffe Dolphins have presented their cases to the Australian Rugby League Commission for inclusion into the NRL as its 17th franchise, possibly as early as 2023.
It is vital the ALRC does what is best for the growth of the game, rather than simply taking on the bid with the most cash. Of course, the successful bid must be financially viable, but that is only one part of what is required to secure the future of the game in south-east Queensland.
ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys was adamant that expansion will only occur as long as the bids would not cannibalise the Brisbane Broncos, Gold Coast Titans or the North Queensland Cowboys. From that perspective, surely the Brisbane Firehawks bid would have to be a concern for the ARLC.
The Firehawks bid are basing themselves in the south-eastern suburbs of Brisbane which is rusted on Broncos territory. They believe they can leverage on a north-south divide and are practically telling the Broncos; “you can have the northside and we will take the southside”.
They would then have to manufacture a north-south rivalry and try to sell it to rugby league supporters in Brisbane. What about diehard Broncos supporters on the southside? Will the Firehawks try to convert them?
Although the Firehawks bid is based on Queensland Cup club Easts Tigers, who are the current feeder club for the Melbourne Storm, they will also be looking to share the Broncos 16,000 strong player/junior base, as well as competing with the Broncos for corporate and sponsorship dollars, which may be a detriment to the Broncos future success on and off the field.
Putting the Broncos aside, the Firehawks also want to tap into the junior base of the Brisbane’s western corridor, the regions which the Jets bid represents.
One of the many reasons the juniors within the western corridor regions are lost to the game is not only the lack of direct pathways to the NRL, but those who wish to pursue their dream to play first grade have to make the sacrifice in moving away from home, which many juniors and their parents are not willing to do, even if the Firehawks are only an hour away from Ipswich and nearly two hours from Toowoomba.
This will leave Brisbane’s western corridor unrepresented in the NRL and open for the AFL and Brisbane Lions to continue invading these regions, with the Lions already basing their club in Springfield.
One could also argue the Firehawks branding is very unappealing. When the ‘Firehawks’ name was unveiled, it was widely mocked on social media, nobody knew what a Firehawk was and they were compared to the Firebirds, Queensland’s netball team, which in itself caused some issues for sounding too similar.
Unless you’re a devoted Easts Tigers supporter from the south-east suburbs of Stones Corner or Coorparoo, the majority of Brisbane metro are rusted on Broncos supporters. The Jets and Dolphins bids already have a rich rugby league history in Queensland and would immediately have a large rusted on supporter base who would flock to Suncorp Stadium in the thousands.
Would thousands of juniors from the western corridor regions or the northern Moreton Bay and Sunshine Coast regions dream of playing for the Firehawks? Will the Firehawks appeal to the rugby league supporters in Brisbane who do not support the Broncos? Unlikely.
Your columnist ran a twitter poll asking which expansion team you would like to see included in the NRL, and the Firehawks were a distant third.
If the #NRL goes ahead with expansion, which bid team would you like to see join the competition?— Adam Hayward (@Hayward_AdamK) August 24, 2021
How will they sell their brand beyond the south-east suburbs of Brisbane? The many thousands of rugby league supporters within the regions surrounding Brisbane will have no connection to the Firehawks whatsoever.
Rugby league heartlands of Ipswich, Logan, Toowoomba, Moreton Bay, Sunshine Coast and Central Queensland – all of which are some of the fastest growing areas in Australia – will not feel represented by the Brisbane’s south-east suburbs-based Firehawks.
Although the Firehawks bid has an impressive business model and are very strong financially, they leave a lot to be desired in regard to support and to the future growth of the game.
The Broncos have rightfully represented all of metropolitan Brisbane for 33 years and the Firehawks want to take half the city away from them? Is that not cannibalising the Broncos? Whereas the other two bids (Jets and Dolphins) have their own regions which they are based and want to proudly represent.