'South Island Kea': Christchurch could have NRL side by 2026

This is what the Te Kaha stadium and Keas logo might look like. Photo: Christchurch City Council ...
This is what the Te Kaha stadium and Keas logo might look like. Photo: Christchurch City Council / South Island Kea
One of New Zealand's most experienced sports administrators says a Christchurch-based National Rugby League (NRL) club could be in action as early as 2026.

Talks are underway for the 'South Island Kea' to be included in an expanded premiership in the coming years.

The team would be based in Christchurch, with the forthcoming multi-use Te Kaha Stadium set to be completed by April 2026.

Former New Zealand Rugby and NRL boss David Moffett is helming the project and plans to meet with Australian rugby league executives over the next few weeks.

It also comes on the heels of a separate bid led by former Canterbury Rugby League administrator.

The rival ventures are now set to face off in a pursuit to bring a professional rugby league operation to the mainland.

There have been longtime advances for a second New Zealand-based club to join the premiership, alongside the New Zealand Warriors.

The Warriors are nearing 30 years of existence and have made two NRL grand finals - in 2002 and 2011 - but are yet to win a premiership.

A mock up of a potential South Island Kea jersey. Photo: South Island Kea / supplied
A mock up of a potential South Island Kea jersey. Photo: South Island Kea / supplied
The competition expanded to 17 teams only last year with the addition of the Dolphins, based out of Queensland's Redcliffe Peninsula.

Initial conceptions over the years proposed a Wellington-based club named the Orcas for inclusion, but this has yet come to pass.

Moffett, who has also had stints in charge of Sport England and the Welsh Rugby Union, said his interest in a South Island-based NRL club dates back to 2012.

The game' administrators had previously expressed a reluctance around the idea of a South Island franchise. But now with the forthcoming Te Kaha Stadium in central Christchurch, Moffett believed this warranted a rethink.

"A great new stadium would be a huge asset for the NRL," he said.

"No other NRL team has a covered stadium. We would bring more matches there than the Crusaders would."

Venues Otautahi chief executive Caroline Harvie-Teare said it highlighted the "positive impact for the city".

Moffett said if the NRL chose to bring forward expansion plans, they would be ready to unleash a team in 2026.

Construction of the 25,000 Te Kaha arena is expected to be completed by April of that year. This also aligns with an additional bid for an NRL club out of Papua New Guinea during this window.

"If they were inclined to have two teams then, we will be ready," Moffett said.

He believed a second club on these shores would help with the retention of local-based talent, with about half of the Australian competition made up of Māori and Pasifika players.

"There's only one New Zealand team, so they take a lot of Kiwis over there to play in the competition. We think instead of going across that ditch, they should go across the shorter ditch, the Cook Strait, and come to Christchurch."

He said the Kea also remained an icon of the South Island and was regarded as "one of the smartest of all birds".

Although only at the start of the bid's flight path, Moffett said for every ticket sold the club would give a dollar to the Save the Kea Foundation.

A fan ownership structure was also being explored.

But he admitted competition would be fierce, with other ventures across the Tasman -including a second Brisbane club, a Cairns-based Pasifika franchise, and the Firehawks, the latter a reincarnation of the Easts League Club.

This was on top of a separate operation, branded South Island NRL Bid Limited, led by former Canterbury Rugby League chairperson Tony Kidd.

It is understood Moffett previously approached Kidd to chair the operation, which was "respectfully declined".

Kidd said he proposed an alternative role to further develop a co-op proposal with South Island NRL Bid Limited.

"David indicated a preference for a comprehensive engagement or none, leading us to wish him all the best," he said. "Concurrently, we acknowledge the launch of the 'Co-Op Kea' concept, positively viewing the emergence of competition."

Moffett said he would meet with Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V'landys and NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo across the Tasman in the next fortnight.

Meanwhile, South Island NRL Bid Limited said it met with the NRL's senior leadership during the opening round in Las Vegas.

"We received encouraging support and a clear timeline regarding expansion plans."

-By Adam Burns