Representatives from Papua New Guinea Rugby League have toured several NRL clubs ahead of a bid to become the competition’s 18th team.
Following the Dolphin’s early success in its first season, calls for further expansion and another team in the NRL have grown louder with a Pasifika team looking the likely destination.
PNGRL chairman Sandis Tsaka, chief executive Stanley Hondina and strategic advisor to PNG’s 2025 NRL bid team Andrew Hill all travelled around Sydney visiting NRL clubs to view their facilities over the weekend.
The trio visited the Penrith Panthers to check out the its academy and pathways program which has seen the club filled with highly skilled local juniors representing at the top level.
Hill said the bid to become the 18th NRL team would be largely based off creating a similarly successful pathways programme to utilise the young rugby league players in PNG.
“The primary focus was to look at pathway and development structures because that will underpin all our work. We want to make sure our foundations are right,” he said, according to the Daily Telegraph.
“The first step of the bid team is focusing on 14 to 20-year-olds in PNG.
“A good part of our trip was understanding how Penrith develop their junior players both at Penrith and in regional areas. When you look at what we will be doing in PNG and potentially the Pacific Islands, we need to have a regional academy model.”
The touring party were also invited to attend Manly’s match against Parramatta and view their facilities.
They also have plans to continue conversations with the federal government about its bid.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited PNG earlier in the year and declared his support for a new NRL team to come from the country.
“I’m very keen to see a rugby league team participate in the NRL that would be based in Papua New Guinea and involve our Pacific Island friends,” Albanese said at the time.
“That’s something that we’ve had discussions about and I’ve discussed with the National Rugby League. There are no greater friends than Australia and Papua New Guinea – tomorrow’s visit will cement that.”
The NRL has plans to potentially expand the competition to up to 20 teams in the coming years with existing clubs like the North Sydney Bears being considered as a relocation option.
Perth, Cairns, another New Zealand side or a team representing the Pacific Islands are also being considered but there is no clear plan set in place for the NRL’s expansion.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins’ sizzling start to their NRL existence has turned attention to when and where an 18th team will enter the competition.
Wayne Bennett’s men have emphatically answered the critics, who questioned whether the talent existed for a competitive 17th team, by kicking off their campaign with two stunning wins.
The Dolphins’ performances were as surprising as they were well-received by the game’s administrators who are keen to keep riding this huge wave of expansion success.
First they knocked off premiership fancies the Roosters and then upset the Raiders in their first game at a sold-out Kayo Stadium in Redcliffe.
The NRL are keen on an 18th team in time for the next broadcast deal in 2027 and head office is even open to a 20-team competition by 2030.
There’s no shortage of potential suitors and several bids already have the wheels in motion, ready to throw their hat in the ring.
Bulldogs general manager Phil Gould was emphatic in his belief that the next team should once again be in southeast Queensland.
“I said for years that Brisbane needed a second team and now I think they need a third team,” he said on Six Tackles with Gus.
“If we’re going to put an 18th team in, that’s where it should be. They’ve got the population, they’ve got the supporter base to do it.
“There’s not another place on the planet that would be better for another NRL team than southeast Queensland, for the game and for sustainable success.”
The NRL 360 panel last week also agreed the next licence should be handed to another Queensland-based team.
“They’ve caught the imagination of people in Queensland,” Phil Rothfield said after the Dolphins beat the Roosters.
“With that remarkable win, The Dolphins have beaten their cross-town rivals and they out-rated the Broncos.
“No doubt about it, it was a fantastic decision to bring them into the competition.”
Braith Anasta also praised ARLC chairman Peter V’landys for pushing ahead with the Dolphins in the face of criticism.
V’landys spoke last week about the recent push for a Pacific Islands team and last year he emphasised the NRL had to be “proactive” in picking a sustainable 18th team.
“We have to expand, we have to always look towards the future,” he said.
“You can’t just stand still, you need to be proactive and you need to continue the popularity of the game, and if we can make the game national, we’ll do so.
“There are a lot of possibilities. There’s a possibility of Perth or even New Zealand.
“It has to stack up with a business case and what the Dolphins did is it stacked up.
“We don’t have to pay tens of millions having that 17th team, in actual fact we generated substantial new revenue from broadcast to have that 17th teams
“So it pays for itself without harming any of the other clubs, so if we go for the 18th team, it has to be important that it actually brings benefits.”
Papua New Guinea made the quarterfinals at the World Cup last year, tying their best result, and now they want to take their skills to the NRL.
It was a strong effort from the Kumuls who represent a nation of eight million and is the only country on earth where rugby league is the national sport.
Their drive to enter the NRL also has the support of the Australian Government, with deputy prime minister Richard Marles last year declaring “now is the time” for PNG.
SOURCE: SKY/FOX SPORTS/PACNEWS