‘You cannot relocate emotional attachment’: Grin and bear it, NRL expansion just doesn’t fit league’s much-loved club


Anytime the subject of expansion of the NRL is raised, someone is always quick to trot out the phrase: “bring back the Bears.” It is time for this nonsense to stop.

For any true-blue Bears’ supporter, the only acceptable outcome would be to have the Bears back at their traditional home in North Sydney. However, we all know that this is a pipe dream.

The Bears’ biggest mistake was not joining the Super League. When the dust settled in the war and the NRL was formed, how many Super League clubs were forced to merge? Zero.

Mario Fenech with North Sydney teammate Sean Hoppe in 1993. (Photo by Getty Images)

Let’s not mention the ill-fated, doomed-from-the-start failure that was the Northern Eagles. Or the fact that the fourth edition of the Gold Coast – remember the Giants, Seagulls and Chargers? – was allowed back into the NRL in 2007 ahead of everyone’s second team. How well has that worked?

Transferring the Bears’ logo and colours to Perth or Port Moresby or wherever does not revive the club. You cannot relocate the emotional attachment that comes from spending countless winters watching games underneath the Moreton Bay fig.

The Bears played their last game in the top flight in 1999. There has been a whole generation of fans grow up who know nothing about them unless they had the good fortune of having a relative who was a Bears diehard.

You would expect the denizens of Perth or Port Moresby to have even less knowledge of the tortured fortunes of one of the league’s much-loved clubs.

If the Bears were to come back, a reincarnation on the Central Coast would be something that most supporters would regard as an acceptable compromise. It was the original plan anyway as the club dealt with its dire financial circumstances towards the end of the 1990s.

At that time the Bears were sourcing many of their players from the region. It’s an easy drive or train ride from North Sydney, and the underused stadium fits the bill for modern NRL more than North Sydney Oval despite any romantic attachment to the picturesque ground.

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NSW Cup #Knockoneffect #NSWCup #NSWRL #NorthSydneyBears #BEARS2024 pic.twitter.com/O6ZZUErdM1

— North Sydney Bears (@NthSydneyBears) March 9, 2024

So what is the way forward for the Bears? The club’s status as a founding member of rugby league in Australia entitles it to remain in the memory of league fans. Its tradition of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory was the stuff of legend. History records that the club won two premierships – hear that Gold Coast?

North Sydney only has to look across the Harbour Bridge to find the answer to its future. The Newtown Jets have evolved into a community club deeply connected to the local area. It has attracted a wave of new supporters (8972 at each game apparently) most of whom never saw the Jets lose to Parramatta in the 1981 grand final.

So the Bears need to develop closer links with their community and those further afield who still love them. Remember the history but forge a new path that all supporters can embrace.

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So let’s make it clear – no more talk of “bring back the Bears.” The colours and logo will remain where they have always been – in North Sydney.

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