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Is Papua New Guinea joining the NRL?

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Papua New Guinea is hoping to become the 18th team in the NRL competition, as talks between the league and government look towards a deal.
Papua New Guinea is hoping to become the 18th team in the NRL competition, as talks between the league and government look towards a deal.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a step closer to joining the NRL as discussions continue between the league and the Federal Government.

It comes after official talks on expanding the NRL to include a PNG team began last year.

If a deal is reached, PNG would join the New Zealand Warriors as the NRL’s second overseas team.

PNG

Papua New Guinea is one of Australia’s closest neighbours.

The national sport of PNG is rugby league. Its national team is the Kumuls, which means birds-of-paradise in one of PNG’s national languages, Tok Pisin.

The Kumuls have competed in the Rugby League World Cup, alongside Australia and New Zealand.

18th team

The NRL expanded to become a 17-club competition in 2023, with the addition of the Dolphins, based in Brisbane’s Redcliffe region. Since then, there have been talks around expanding the NRL to 18 teams.

During a visit to PNG last year, Federal Minister for the Pacific Pat Conroy said the Government has an “earnest desire to deliver a rugby league team” in PNG.

He announced $5.5 million to help PNG build its case to join the NRL. This was also earmarked to support player “pathways” to encourage young people’s involvement in the game.

Australia’s support

Prime Minister of PNG James Marape said last year that rugby league has strengthened “the diplomatic ties between Papua New Guinea and Australia”.

PM Anthony Albanese confirmed he discussed the matter with Marape during talks earlier this year.

“They are very passionate about their rugby league and that’s why it would be a good thing for the economic development of PNG,” Albanese told ABC radio this week.

If a deal is reached with the NRL, it’s not yet clear when PNG would officially join the competition. However, Deputy PM Richard Marles has indicated a timeframe of “around 2027“.

Shadow Minister for the Pacific Michael McCormack told TDA he supported the idea of a PNG rugby league team.

However, he acknowledged some concerns around “logistics” that would need to be worked through.

Response

Once negotiations are finalised, the NRL’s governing body – the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) – will need to approve PNG’s bid to enter the competition.

Peter V’landys is chairman of the ARLC. Last week he told media PNG’s entry to the NRL is not a “done deal”.

He added there are “a few negotiating points” still outstanding.

Conroy told TDA the NRL and the Government “are aligned on a way forward,” however.

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