Rivals unite as NRL expansion battle explodes
The NRL's expansion race has taken a dramatic twist with the Brisbane Bombers and Ipswich's western-corridor sensationally joining forces in a $12 million super bid known as the Brisbane Jets.
The new consortium has reached agreement-in-principle after months of secret talks to form a powerful joint-venture bidding to become the NRL's 17th outfit - and Brisbane's second team to rival the Broncos.
As revealed by News Corp last year, ARL Commission boss Peter V'landys targeted expansion for 2023, with the NRL to begin due diligence next month with a view to announcing the code's 17th team in June or July.
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Now the NRL's expansion battle has exploded, with the Bombers and Ipswich burying a 10-year rivalry to form a merger they believe will blow contenders Redcliffe and Easts Firehawks out of the race for a 17th licence.
The parties are in the advanced stage of formulating constitutional structures but believe the name Brisbane Jets is the brand that can win over the ARL Commission to become Queensland's fourth NRL team.
The creation of the new entity is a critical development in the expansion saga, with the battle for the NRL's 17th licence now ostensibly a race in three between Redcliffe, the Firehawks and the Brisbane Jets.
Bombers shareholder Nick Livermore confirmed top-secret negotiations with Ipswich bid chief Steve Johnson have led to the birth of the Jets alliance.
"We've agreed in principle to joining forces," Livermore said.
"The Bombers and Ipswich are moving together as one and this is the perfect model for the NRL's 17th team.
"We've been in talks for about six months.
"There's been a lot to work through but we've found common ground and if the ARL Commission makes a call in June or July, we're ready to go as Brisbane's second team.
"If the ARL Commission looks at all the metrics around growth, participation, sustainability, financial security and creating a genuine derby with the Broncos without cannibalising the current NRL market, it will take a special bid to overtake this.
"There is no other bid that will compete with the Brisbane Jets."
The Jets will target the likes of Craig Bellamy and Wayne Bennett to be their foundation coach should they clinch an NRL licence for 2023.
Bellamy held talks with Bombers bosses 18 months ago in relation to a possible coaching director's role.
Former NRL head of football and ex-Titans chief operating officer Brian Canavan is operating in a consultancy capacity, working on the Jets' bid document and holding talks with ARL Commission figures.
The Jets will be based in the Ipswich region, which will boast 19,000 registered players by 2026, and will also leverage the Toowoomba catchment which helped produce NRL champion Johnathan Thurston.
The Bombers nickname was widely criticised but Livermore believes the ARL Commission will be impressed with the new Jets branding and bid document.
"There was some feedback that there might be push-back on the Bombers name for an NRL club, so we've removed that hurdle," he said.
"The aviation brand is a great way to entice young people to get involved in rugby league so the Brisbane Jets is an exciting brand.
"I have a lot of respect for Steve Johnson. We have spent 20 years of our professional lives trying to grow the game of rugby league in Brisbane.
"To align our values together makes sense, we are both truly passionate about rugby league dominating and we can do that as the NRL's 17th team."
Johnson lauded the strength of the Brisbane Jets.
"Coming together, we are a super bid," he said.
"The ARL Commission won't find a more comprehensive model for a second Brisbane team.
"It's exciting, it unites the community strength of the Ipswich western-corridor bid with the commercial expertise of what was the Brisbane Bombers bid.
"Peter V'landys has spoken about participation. Our bid will deliver on that and we will grow the NRL playing base more than any other bid.
"The Brisbane Jets theme is easy to market and is resonates with the Ipswich region's proud involvement with the defence forces.
"It is the perfect branding for the NRL ... this bid is the undeniable standout."
Originally published as Rivals unite as NRL expansion battle explodes