A second Brisbane NRL team must happen, with Harry Grant and Kalyn Ponga prime targets for the new club.
That's the verdict from Queensland greats Wally Lewis and Sam Thaiday, who are adamant that a concerning rugby league talent pool and the Broncos' current monopoly on the city should not be a deterrent to expansion.
The NRL has pencilled in a second Brisbane team for the 2023 season, which would become the competition's 17th club. Redcliffe Dolphins, Brisbane Jets and Brisbane Firehawks are the contenders.
Redcliffe is an enormous club boasting more than $100 million in assets, including a revamped boutique stadium that is currently being used amid the NRL's relocation to Queensland. The Dolphins are a clear frontrunner, Lewis and Thaiday believe, with the aim of playing most games out of Suncorp Stadium and using Moreton Daily Stadium as a top-notch training base that can also host some matches.
"It (expansion) is going to take place whether people agree with it or not," Lewis said on Wide World of Sports' QLDER.
"I've got to say I do [agree with expansion] and if we're asked to point out where that should be ... Redcliffe can't be ignored. Magnificent set-up from last weekend [for both Sunday NRL matches], would have impressed plenty of people.
"Ipswich you certainly have to take into consideration as well; the talent that they've had from that area and the way that they continue to promote rugby league in the best way possible. And I think Rockhampton certainly can't be ignored either."
Thaiday said: "I still think Redcliffe is the frontrunner at the moment. I would love to see this announced sooner rather than later, so whatever team it is can get a recruitment agent on board straight away and get them throughout Queensland searching for players, throughout NSW searching for players.
"I think if [they] can snap up some of that younger talent already and then start signing some marquee players around it, I'm sure that whoever ends up coaching that team - someone (Wayne Bennett) has thrown their hat in the ring already - I'm sure that they can start building something and who knows what's going to happen from that point in time."
Lewis said that rugby league had enough talent to cover another NRL team, despite ongoing concerns about diluting the competition. NRL great Paul Gallen wrote in his Wide World of Sports column this week that the last-placed Bulldogs were proof that talent was already spread too thin.
"I think there is enough players," Lewis said.
"We're going to be drawing them from the Q-Cup, bringing them in. Lots of young talent, or course, that'll be coming along."
For Lewis, the top marquee target is simple: Queensland State of Origin hooker Grant. He is contracted at Melbourne Storm until the end of 2022 and there remains a tricky balancing act playing alongside New Zealand Test hooker Brandon Smith; whom the club have offered another new deal.
"Harry Grant, he's a wonderful player," Lewis said.
"I watched this kid play for seven minutes and I remember in his first grade debut, I said, 'That kid will play for Queensland, probably play for Australia'. He had time, he had space, his decision-making process was first class.
"He had the ability to be able to dictate terms to the opposition really clearly and the way that he was able to run with the ball and create doubt in the mind of the defender was something that was quite extraordinary."
Thaiday opted for Queensland Origin fullback Kalyn Ponga, who is off-contract with Newcastle at the end of next season; though holds a player option at the Knights for seasons 2023-24. Newcastle have been trying to extend Ponga's deal, which is currently worth about $1 million per season, but Thaiday reckons that he could form a marquee union with Grant.
"You can sign Harry Grant but you can sign Kalyn Ponga as well," he said.
"You talk about a marquee player and you want to attract people to your club, he's one of those kids that is absolutely growing in confidence year by year. He has a cult following already. You're going to get that kid market, you're going to be getting kids and families through the gate to watch a player like Kalyn Ponga.
"I think he's the guy that you chase and you throw the kitchen sink at him. If it's in the Moreton Bay region, give him Moreton Island! He can have it, he can do whatever he wants there!"
Both Thaiday and Lewis see no problems with the new Brisbane team finding a fan base. It comes as a surprise to most outside of Brisbane that despite it being a league-mad city, many fans don't like the Broncos.
"I'm sure that the new franchise, wherever it is and whatever it is, will be able to attract a lot of people that are not necessarily Broncos [fans]," Thaiday said.
"I keep going back to Redcliffe because they've got the stadium there. I think it's a perfect-sized stadium for a new team coming into a massive competition, they'll be able to push tickets and push membership really well in that area as well. They're financially stable.
"There will be enough fans there that support a team that's not the Brisbane Broncos. We'd love to say everyone in Brisbane is a Broncos fan but they're not."
The other option for expansion within the Brisbane market without diluting the overall talent pool would be to relocate or kill-off an existing Sydney club; something that the NRL has shown little stomach for previously.
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