The Halifax Rainmen could have a Maritime rival by the end of the month.

The Manchester Millrats, who have spent three seasons in New Hampshire, are close to finalizing a deal that would relocate the Premier Basketball League franchise to Harbour Station in Saint John, N.B., for the 2011 season.

Owner Ian McCarthy said the Millrats are “30 days from this move being 100 per cent” and hope to have a lease agreement signed within a week.

McCarthy said the Millrats have essentially outgrown Southern New Hampshire University’s 2,000-seat fieldhouse and are unable to move to the 10,000-seat Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester because of scheduling problems and cost.

He called Saint John and its 6,603-seat facility “an ideal fit for minor-league basketball.”

“It’s an opportunity that is too good, potentially, for us to pass up,” McCarthy said.

Rainmen owner Andre Levingston, also the PBL’s director of Canadian business development, encouraged McCarthy to investigate Saint John. The move has been in the works since November.

“I was impressed by how much they really wanted us to play there,” McCarthy said of his initial meetings with arena officials.

McCarthy said he is encouraged by the success of the minor-league basketball franchise in Halifax and hopes a Saint John franchise would establish a natural rivalry with the Rainmen similar to the one between the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Sea Dogs and Mooseheads.

“The next step is to establish a legal entity in Canada and round out our ownership group,” he said. “We have some very strong owners now but would like to have some local ownership represented as well.”

The Millrats were founded in 2007 and spent one season in the American Basketball Association and the past two in the PBL.

The Rainmen and Quebec Kebs are the only Canadian teams currently part of the nine-team PBL. Levingston told Metro last month he is also investigating expansion to Ontario in Guelph and Hamilton and will consider Moncton, N.B.

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