At least two separate syndicates are preparing bids for an NRL franchise based in Wellington.
The news comes as NRL chief executive Dave Smith, delighted by a spectacular opening day of the Auckland Nines, revealed the stepping up of a targeted strategic plan to grow rugby league in New Zealand.
Smith wouldn't be drawn on the prospect of a second franchise during an exclusive interview with Sunday News but spoke openly about his organisation's plans to increase its presence in this country.
A long-established group which includes Wellington Rugby League boss Jason Hemson is ready to submit a proposal to bring an NRL team to the capital.
But the Sunday Star-Times can reveal a second group, based in Australia but with New Zealand investors, is understood to be exploring the prospect of lobbying for a second team.
Shane Harmon, chief executive of Wellington's Westpac Stadium, confirmed an approach from the second group "about the possibility of basing a team or partly basing a team in Wellington".
"That hasn't been from the NRL . . . we understand that these individuals are talking to a number of New Zealand cities. I don't know who their backer is. They have said that there are some New Zealand backers."
Hemson confirmed his group's intentions. "We've got a business plan and when the NRL gives an indication they want bids for expansion, we will be ready to go," he said.
That will not be before 2017 when the NRL's present broadcast deal expires. Smith confirmed expansion discussions would begin at the end of this season but the former banker cautioned there would be no rush decisions.
"When we understand where all the pieces are, then we can start to make big strategic decisions for the right reasons and with confidence that it's a secure investment that will take the game forward," he said.
- Sunday Star Times
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