Updated 12pm: It’s now official … the Dolphins will be the NRL’s 17th team. The ARL Commission has just announced the news following an exhaustive bid process and grassroots community campaign to bring a team to the Moreton Bay Region.
The Dolphins’ bid overcame challenges from rivals Brisbane Firehawks and Brisbane Jets, proving the Redcliffe-based club has the assets, growing fan base and processes in place to hit the ground running. They will be known as simply, The Dolphins, according to NRL CEO Andrew Abdo.
The bid was backed by the region’s political leaders – all levels of government and sides of politics – earlier this year and about 7000 people signed pledges of support from across South East Queensland.
The grassroots campaign by Moreton Daily aimed to show the ARL Commission that the community wanted the 17th team based in the Moreton Bay Region.
It encouraged fans to pledge their support, share memories, display a bumper sticker, wear red to work and add a supporters’ frame to their Facebook profile photo.
The club now has to focus on signing a coach – there has been much speculation that super coach Wayne Bennett is keen – and building a squad that will make it competitive when the 2023 season kicks off.
The NRL Telstra Premiership will expand to a 26-round competition as part of the Dolphins' entry with every team continuing to play 24 games in the regular season.
The total number of regular season games will increase from 192 to 204 with teams receiving two byes.
“Today is an exciting moment in the history of our game. The NRL Telstra Premiership will expand to 17 teams in 2023 and on behalf of the Commission I would like to congratulate The Dolphins on being granted the 17th licence,’’ ARLC chairman Peter V'landys says in a statement on the NRL website.
“I would also like to acknowledge and thank the other bid teams for the work they put into their submissions. All three bids were of the highest calibre and highlight the strength of rugby league in Queensland.”
Mr V’landys says expanding the game in Queensland is vital to the long-term growth of the sport.
“Rugby League is part of Queensland’s DNA and to have 4 teams based in Queensland will further strengthen our game as the No.1 sport in the State,’’ he says.
“The key to long term success is growth. By growing the NRL Telstra Premiership we create more fans, encourage more participants and increase commercial investment in rugby league.
“Expansion is also a really important part of our participation strategy. It will be a condition of the licence that the Dolphins spend $2 million every year on participation and growing the women’s game in Southeast Queensland. Our focus over the next year is revitalising our participation strategy and The Dolphins will be an important part of that in Queensland.”
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo addressed the media at 11.30am, saying The Dolphins met all five key criteria and the commission was unanimous in its decision.
He says expansion with The Dolphins was part of the Commission's mission to stabilise, renovate and grow the game.
The Dolphins' decision was 'data-driven' and followed careful research into the best way to grow the game in Queensland, targeting the fast-growing northern corridor.
Part of the deal is a $2 million per year investment by the club in participation and pathways to grow the game for men, women and indigenous players.
Abdo says the club's holistic approach, detailed plan to recruit coaching and playing staff and ability to stand on its own feet financially, from day one, were key factors. He also believes it will be competitive on the playing field immediately.
Dolphins Chairman Bob Jones credits the club’s forebears for its success, saying from day one they strived to be the best and play in the best competition.
He says the announcement was on the backs of those who worked tirelessly to create the club that stands today and included Tom Maule, Don McLennan, Dick ‘Tosser’ Turner, Des Webb and Arthur Beetson.
“They would have loved to have been around to see this day,” Mr Jones says.
In a message to supporters the clubs says it is a moment for the history books and one "we can all celebrate in".
"We are on a high. After such a long march, it's finally happened. To those who have faithfully held the flame all these years - the Dolphins' true believers - we say thank you," the message says.
"In particular, a huge thanks to the thousands of backers whose dream never wavered – the Club members, supporters, current and former players, employees, community partners, local MPs and sponsors who carried us on your shoulders all the way to the NRL. A community club like the Dolphins would be nothing without you and the NRL had a keen eye on all of you in making its decision for the Dolphins.
"Des Webb's aim was that the Dolphins "play in the best competition that is achievable" and today we have achieved that long-held dream."
"A very special acknowledgement also to the support we’ve received from our local governments, in particular Moreton Bay Regional Council, who could not have done any more to support our bid.
We are proudly the very first existing community club in Queensland to join the NRL and the first who will also play in the Queensland Cup. This is a massive win for fans and for the communities the Dolphins are a part of."
Moreton Bay Regional Council Mayor Peter Flannery says this is a monumental decision by the ARL Commission that will help elevate the Moreton Bay Region over the coming decades as the region embraces major growth and new opportunities.
“This has been a long time coming for the people of Moreton Bay - in fact it’s 74 years since the Dolphins first kicked off its proud history in the local suburban leagues back in 1947,” Mayor Flannery says.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into creating the powerhouse club that they are today, with their huge club assets, devoted supporter base, rich history and now the proud owners of an NRL licence.
“I want to congratulate the Dolphins on an exceptional bid campaign that I think made the decision a no brainer for the ARLC, and a massive thank you to every fan, organisation, group, business and all three levels of government who helped along the way.”
Mayor Flannery says today’s announcement is one the region can celebrate together because it means huge region-wide benefits for Moreton Bay and it comes at an important time in the region’s history.
“Moreton Bay has long been defined by its various and colourful communities, but now we have a common identity we can all rally behind and support on the national stage where we belong,” he says.
“A Moreton Bay NRL team is projected to generate $74.88 million annually to our local economy and it’s estimated to support more than 400 local jobs, with some of those to be created at the club itself.
“The community and grassroots impacts will be profound with club’s ability to reach new junior players and spread the game of rugby league and the associated health benefits right across the region.
“We’re already home to some 5600 junior rugby league players with 650 of those playing at Dolphins, and a further 15,500 registered players within a 50-minute drive of Moreton Daily Stadium.
“All those young boys and girls will now have a local team to call their own and they’ll also have a direct pathway to play rugby league right here in their own backyard.
“Council has helped turn Moreton Daily Stadium into the best boutique sports venue in Australia with our $8.4 million investment toward the overall $24 million upgrades thanks to contributions from the Federal and State Governments.”
By the end of this year, Moreton Daily Stadium will have hosted 41 different events including an NRL trial, two NRL double headers and the final NRL fixture of the season, Brisbane Roar’s A-League home matches, the NRL’s National Women’s Championship and the Intrust Super Cup Grand Final.
“The investment has already been worth every cent to see these events being hosted locally, televised nationally and internationally and for the many opportunities they provide to businesses across the region as they look to recover from COVID-19 impacts - so you can only imagine what it will mean to have a permanent NRL team based in Moreton Bay,” he says.
“I can’t wait to see Moreton Bay Dolphins run out on the national stage in 2023 and now we just need to convince Wayne Bennett to come coach and start a healthy rivalry with our cross-town rivals.”
Moreton Bay Region Industry and Tourism (MBRIT) Chairman Shane Newcombe, publisher of Moreton Daily, says there’s no doubt the Dolphins and the region are NRL-ready.
“We have been working closely with the club to make this a reality and are thrilled the 17th team will be based at Moreton Daily Stadium,” Mr Newcombe says.
“Our growing region is the logical location for the ARL’s expansion, with strong population growth and the infrastructure to support it.
“The benefits of having an NRL team in the Moreton Bay Region will extend much further than the footy field, with increased activity for local businesses and tourism operators expected as more people discover what the region has to offer.
“We’re ready to embrace the opportunities coming our way and can’t wait to be part of history, when the 2023 season begins. Congratulations to the bid team for securing the 17th licence.”
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