The NRL is eagerly awaiting the inaugural season of its newest franchise — the Dolphins — but already attention has turned to the tussle to become the league’s 18th team.
Brisbane, Perth and New Zealand are all expected to be key contenders for the license but will face stiff competition from Papua New Guinea, which has launched its bid to join the NRL.
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Papua New Guinea is aiming to join the league by 2030, with the latest bid receiving the backing of its Prime Minister, James Marape, and cabinet.
The campaign was officially launched on Wednesday night according to the ABC, which reports that Papua New Guinea hopes to “demonstrate strong credentials as a prospective participant by 2025”.
“Our PNG NRL bid team is ready. The time to start the journey is now. We can’t wait any longer,” Papua New Guinea Sports Minister Wesley Raminai said at the launch, per the ABC.
Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Marape, revealed last year that the country’s Queensland Cup side — the PNG Hunters — were at the heart of his plans to push for an NRL team.
“We are preparing for possibility of PNG owning a team in the NRL in 2025,” Marape said at the time.
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“That is why the Hunters are becoming an entity of their own and turning into a professional outfit. With the Hunters relocating to Australia using their new visa, it will be also easy for them to stay in Australia and play if they secure an NRL contract.
“We can produce more Hunters and send them to Australia. We are now sending a team to reside and participate in their Queensland Cup competition and that is a pathway for Papua New Guineans who want to excel in the fields of sports.”
Papua New Guinea’s national team — The Kumuls — are ranked fifth in the world while Justin Olam and Xavier Coates are among high-profile NRL players to have come from PNG.
There was also talk Papua New Guinea, could have joined forces with countries like Fiji, Tonga and Samoa to form a Pacific powerhouse.
That concept was floated by Immortal Andrew Johns, who told SEN Radio last year that a Papua New Guinea team should be seriously considered by the NRL.
“I think in some way, shape or form it (the 18th team) should be a Pacific nation side,” he said at the time.
“It allows you to shore up that crucial area, it’s one of the heartlands of the game now as far as recruitment is concerned. The nation that has got miles of money as far as oil money is concerned is PNG.
“There has been talk that they’ll build a great stadium. The logistical issue would be that they’ve got health issues in the country. But I’ll say this, how many countries in the world could you say that rugby league has turned the country around? It totally swung everything.
“Think of the side you could get out of PNG, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and the Cook Islands.“You could even have a Pacific nations side based in Wellington that’s based around that was representative of the Pacific.”