The National Rugby League is the top level rugby league competition in Australia and New Zealand . It was formed in 1998 after the merger of the Australian Super League and the Australian Rugby League. It originally contained twenty teams but this was cut down to 14 by 2000. Expansion increased this number back up to 16.
The Australian Super league and the ARL combined had 22 teams. When the NRL was formed in 1998 it was decided that there would only be 20 teams. The Melbourne Storm were the first expansion club, added for the 1998 season. This meant that the NRL would have to remove three teams: the WA Reds, the South Queensland Crushers and the Hunter Mariners. In 1999 the Adelaide Rams and the Gold Coast Chargers were also removed from the competition. The same fate happened for the South Sydney Rabbitohs in 2000
In addition, the NRL achieved further reduction in the number teams through mergers of established clubs from Sydney and regional New South Wales. There were 3 mergers, with 1 collapsing and with 2 surviving - St. George Dragons merged with Illawarra Steelers, Western Suburbs Magpies merged with Balmain Tigers, and Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles merged with North Sydney Bears.
|Melbourne||1998 – current|
|St George Illawarra||1999 – current|
|Wests Tigers||2000 – current|
|Northern Eagles||2000 – 2002|
|Gold Coast Titans||2007 – current|
The South Sydney Rabbitohs were re-admitted to the competition for the 2002 NRL season after a legal battle with the NRL over their expulsion in the 2000 season, with the help from New Zealand actor Russel Crowe.
In November 2012 as part of the release of the ARL's Strategic Plan it was announced that there would be a review into expanding the NRL at the end of the 2022 season (which is when the next television rights deal will be made).
The following bids are currently lobbying both the ARL and governments for support.
In January 2011, David Gallop, then CEO of the NRL, confirmed he had spoken to a bid team delegate seeking to create Brisbane's second NRL team. If their bid is successful they would play at Suncorp Stadium on alternate weekends to the Brisbane Broncos, the bid team also has a number of other options including: Davies Park, Dolphin Park, Robina Park, Cbus Super stadium and Metricon Stadium. This team name in July 2011 was announced as the Brisbane Bombers. But, the franchise has sparked criticism from the AFL club, Essendon Bombers, about trademark infringement. In 2017, the Brisbane Bombers attempted to bid for the NRL licence of the struggling Gold Coast Titans side but their bid was unsuccessful. In January 2018, the Brisbane Bombers announced they would be putting in a bid for an NRL licence in 2020 if the opportunity arises.
In April 2013, the Brothers Leprechauns NRL made a bid to join the Brisbane Broncos in the NRL as a fourth Queensland NRL team. To be based in Brisbane, Queensland, the Leprechauns would play up to 8 of their home games at Suncorp Stadium and take the rest of their "home" games to country regions where they have an in place fan base. Regional hubs like Townsville, Cairns, Toowoomba, Rockhampton and the Gold Coast could all successfully host the Brothers NRL team and provide additional content to Government owned Stadiums that desperately need more games in them. This strategy is what set Brothers apart form its competitors in the expansion race. Not only is Brothers Rugby League an established brand, they currently have satellite clubs already operating all over Australia. That means they have an in place fan base already connected to their brand. Brothers as a brand also operates in other sports such as Rugby Union, cricket, netball and hockey giving the bid access to thousands of connected fans from outside of their own sport. Their home ground strategy being reduced games at Suncorp Stadium would lower their overheads, be an attractive proposition for the corporate hospitality market and general fans alike. The regional games would then provide guaranteed, fixed revenue through event based tourism investment from local Councils and connect with the tens of thousands of regional fans already in place. Their training and headquarter would be based in Gibson Park Stafford utilising the Stafford Bowls Club redevelopment as well as potential academies in strong holds around Ipswich and Logan. The Brothers NRL Bid stated they could bring in place talent pathways all through out QLD, an already connected fan base and plenty of corporate support due to their unique home game strategy and highly engaged fan base. The Leprechauns are currently competing for another Brisbane side against strong rivals Brisbane Bombers and Western Corridor and their jersey colours will be navy and white if they are granted a license.
In August 2010, the Ipswich Jets formally announced the creation of a bid team for 2013 with the future club to be based in the Ipswich-West Brisbane corridor in order to capitalise on the massive population boom projected for that region. The move would effectively see the promotion of the existing local Queensland Cup side to the higher NRL premiership.
In 2005 the North Sydney Bears planned on rejoining the league as the Central Coast Bears and basing themselves out of Gosford, New South Wales and will use Central Coast Stadium. The bid team plans to unite the current North Sydney and Central Coast districts under the one team.
In April 2009, a consortium from the Central Queensland region declared their intent to launch a bid for an NRL team to be based in Rockhampton in the next expansion period. The bid aimed to be a new club by 2013. cqnrlbid.com.au
In October 2008, a Papua New Guinea Rugby Football League NRL bid team was launched with government funding and support. An official website was launched in September 2009 detailing the progress of the PNG bid and its aim to provide social and economic benefits for the country as a whole.
Papua New Guinea Hunters, founded in 2014, have since joined the Queensland Cup and won the 2017 title by defeating the Sunshine Coast Falcons 12-10. They aim to join the National Rugby League for the 2023 premiership season.
The wealthy Queensland team already has a Queensland Cup side. With financial support from local, state and federal governments, the club is currently building a $15m boutique stadium. With this combination of the new stadium, a plush leagues club, a recognisable brand and a history of success, the club considers itself ready to enter the National Rugby League.
Replacing the Wellington Orcas bid, the Wellington Rugby League have been working on a proposal and business plan for a second New Zealand based team since 2008. The club would be based in Wellington and propose to play half their home matches in the New Zealand capital, with other games to be spread throughout the country and the Pacific, including Rotorua.
In 2006, the Western Australia Rugby League announced that the Perth-based WA Reds were to be resurrected with an aim to re-join the NRL. In 2012, the WA Reds were rebranded as the West Coast Pirates. Both West Coast Pirates and the WA Reds played out of Perth Oval in the under-age S. G. Ball Cup, with an aim to having a number of WA-born juniors when the bid joins the NRL  West Coast Pirates
Both of the NRL bid teams, West Coast Pirates and Central Coast Bears have been planning the idea of becoming a joint venue and being branded as "Western Bears". Both clubs are keen on working together to earn a NRL license.