The NRL is facing backlash from clubs wanting a greater say in who should be awarded an 18th licence – and when expansion should occur – in a system which would mirror the AFL’s approach to growing the competition.

With no immediate end in sight to the Australian Rugby League Commission’s feud with players over stalled talks for a new pay deal, the code is facing a fresh demand from clubs, who are yet to sign licensing agreements to play in the 2024 competition.

The growing tension between head office and its clubs, states and players is set to face a new twist with several clubs expressing a desire to argue for strict parameters around the introduction of an 18th team as part of the licensing talks.

Consortiums representing the Pasifika based out of Papua New Guinea, the Brisbane Tigers and a Perth pitch aligned with the Newtown Jets have all expressed early interest in being the NRL’s newest franchise, potentially as soon as 2026.

But clubs have already discussed only agreeing to new licence agreements with conditions that would provide them with a vote on how expansion would work.

ARLC chairman Peter V’landys was the driving force behind the introduction of the Dolphins into this year’s competition.

But the official granting of the licence came less than a month before they needed to start signing players in late 2021 and angered the existing clubs who saw their talent depth eroded quickly amid an inflated market.

According to sources speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the confidential talks, clubs want the NRL’s licensing deals to include clauses which set out the timeline for expansion and how the process will evolve.

The AFL took formal votes from all 18 club presidents earlier this year before agreeing Tasmania would be awarded the code’s 19th licence. The new franchise won’t enter the competition until 2028.

There’s less than four months before the licences for all 17 NRL clubs expire. There’s no suggestion of a breakaway competition.

The NRL is also embroiled in an increasingly ugly battle with its player pool, which has staged a media blackout on NRL, NRLW and State of Origin game days to protest a take-it-or-leave-it pay deal.

Negotiations between the NRL and Rugby League Players’ Association have lasted 20 months and the players’ union has asked for an independent industrial relations expert to resolve the dispute. The NRL has shown no appetite to go down that path.

RLPA boss Clint Newton has said he would be willing to step down if it means a new collective bargaining agreement could be struck but denied players were against expansion.

“We are fully supportive of expansion, however, you would think there’s going to be a clear strategy shared among those of us that will be a part of carrying out that strategy to understand why and how does it benefit,” Newton said.

“We don’t want agreement rights over that, but the game should be coming to the players and saying, ‘this is where we’re heading, this is why we’re doing it, this is how you can help’.

“Then in my view, given the clubs are voting members, I 100 per cent agree they should have agreement rights over that.

“We have never been opposed to expansion provided it’s supported by a clear, thought-out, strategy. You can have expansion without increasing the number of matches any player is obligated to play.”

The players’ union released a detailed breakdown over the weekend of the non-pay issues they remain in dispute with the NRL over, which include a lack of agreement rights if the competition is increased by two games per team.

They are also campaigning for players to be protected under privacy laws, a plan for how much revenue international tournaments will generate before agreeing on a pay structure for all nations, an increase to the minimum wage in 2023 and autonomy over money for player-led benefits and programs.

Queensland captain and RLPA general president Daly Cherry-Evans will address the media on Monday.