NRL: Southern NZ Warriors fans brace for their own team in 2026 expansion bid

New Zealand may soon have a second NRL franchise, with a consortium preparing a South Island bid to be unveiled at a rugby league doubleheader at Las Vegas next month. 

They say it will have the backing of a high-profile Hollywood celebrity and put them in the boxseat to become the competition's 18th team in 2026.

Right now, southern league fans have only one team.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck signs autographs for Christchurch fans.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck signs autographs for Christchurch fans. Photo credit: Newshub

Hundreds have turned out just to watch NZ Warriors train before their pre-season encounter with Wests Tigers at Christchurch on Sunday - but soon they could have a team of their own. 

"A major announcement that will definitly put us in the boxseat to be the next club admitted into the NRL," said bid chief executive Tony Kidd. 

They're keeping tight lipped on exactly who their celebrity backer is, but luckily, another star is happy to endorse it. 

"I definitely think there's enough support in New Zealand to have a second team, wherever that is, I'm not sure," said former NZ Kiwis captain and new Wests coach Benji Marshall.

"I know the game wants to expand and if that is here, great."

The demand is clearly there. About 15,000 Christchurch league fans will pack out Apollo Projects Stadium, just for a preseason match. 

"It's a proud rugby league area too," insisted Warriors coach Andrew Webster. "I think everyone forgets that.

"I know rugby unions is really strong with the Crusaders, bu rugby league's big down here."

Webster should know, with a Christchurch local part of his pre-season squad. 

"There's heaps of talent down here, man, and you're starting to see it now with the junior Warriors," said prop Tanner Stowers-Smith. "I could name a whole heaps of boys from the South Island coming up."

There have also been plenty in the past. Former Kiwi and Warrior Logan Edwards could only dream of playing NRL in his hometown. 

"It would be great," he said. "There's not much for the kids to strive for, except the Warriors, here in New Zealand."

The bid will face stiff competition from the likes of Papau New Guinea and Perth, but with the new 30,000-seat Christchurch stadium due for completion in 2026, the timing could be just right.  

"We beleive we're the best option in 2026 and we'll be ready to go," said Kidd.

That's sure to have South Island league fans frothing.