Kumuls veteran Rhyse Martin believes the introduction of a PNG NRL team would boost the competitiveness of the national side by creating opportunities for more players at the top level.
Martin, who captained Papua New Guinea at last year’s World Cup, was the only player from outside the domestic competition in the Kumuls side when he made his Test debut against Tonga in 2014.
However, the Kumuls squad preparing for Sunday’s Pacific Championships clash with Fiji comprises solely of players from the NRL, Super League and Queensland Cup competitions, including four from the PNG Hunters.
Many other Kumuls players have been developed by the Hunters, who joined the Queensland Cup in 2014, and Martin said a PNG NRL team would make the depth of talent available for Test selection even stronger.
“It’s exciting times for the Kumuls, and I think that’s a credit to the Hunters,” Martin said. “A lot of our players have played for the Hunters and moved along to other teams.
“They’re all over the world now … so the Hunters are doing a great job and it is just giving the boys that are home grown here more experience and exposure to go out and play everywhere.
“That just brings experience to our squad and the team at the moment is exciting and it is just going to keep going that way over the next couple of years.”
The PNG NRL bid was instrumental in the appointment of Joe Grima as head of elite pathways development, and he oversaw the Junior Kumuls side which narrowly went down 20-14 to the Australian Schoolboys last month.
The Australian and Papua New Guinea Governments are backing the bid and Martin said a PNG NRL team would be a huge boost to both the game and country.
“Bringing in an PNG NRL team would be amazing for everyone,” Martin said.
“The country has been wanting something like that for a long time and what it does is give more children and people in Papua New Guinea a greater goal of something to achieve or something to aspire to.”
Martin is one of nine PNG players in the Super League, including former Leeds team-mate Nene McDonald, Leigh’s Lachlan Lam and Edwin Ipape, Castleford pair Liam Horne and Nixon Putt and London Broncos prop Wellington Albert.
The number of Kumuls in the NRL has also grown, with Rabbitohs fullback Alex Johnston, Dragons forwards Jack de Belin and Dan Russell, Storm backs Justin Olam and Xavier Coates and Titans lock Jacob Allick among them.
“It is good that the boys are getting exposure at that higher level,” Ipape said.
“Tongans and Samoans and New Zealanders get a lot of opportunities in the NRL and Super League, and that is why they are competitive when it comes to World Cups.
“For PNG, we don’t have as many players competing at that elite level on a weekly basis so it is good to see some of the boys getting an opportunity to play Super League, and I am sure it is going to bring a lot of success for the Kumuls in the future.”
Albert, who helped the London Broncos qualify for Super League promotion by beating Toulouse, was recruited by Penrith as a teenager and he said a PNG NRL team would provide opportunities for players without having to leave home.
“I don’t know why but most of our boys can’t make it to the NRL system and that is why you are seeing a lot of players picked from PNG straight to the UK,” Albert said.
“NRL clubs can go to Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and get a boy from the village straight to NRL, unlike us for some reason, so we need an NRL team and a good system for schoolboys coming through.”