Australian PM reaffirms backing for PNG NRL side

Photo: PNG Hunters/Facebook

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has doubled down on his support for ARLC chairman Peter V’landys’ National Rugby League (NRL) expansion bid, calling for a 20-team competition.

V’landys is reportedly keen to have 20 teams in the NRL in the next decade, with Papua New Guinea the favourite to secure the 18th franchise licence.

PNG’s push has been aided by the Albanese government who are reportedly willing to aid the Pacific nation with AUD$600 million (about K1.46 billion) in funding to in a bid to strengthen relations.

Now, according to The Daily Telegraph, alongside a PNG franchise, Albanese has backed both the North Sydney Bears and Newtown Jets play in the NRL.

“That would be a wonderful thing to see the Bears in the NRL again,” Albanese said.

“My first preference is to see a team based in Papua New Guinea. It’s a matter for the NRL, of course, but having an expansion team in the Pacific would be very positive for Australia’s national interests.

“As the league goes to possibly 20 teams over time, there is a potential for teams associated with the Bears to come back.

“I would also like to see Newtown come back. It would be great to see the Jets in the big league again … they (Newtown and North Sydney) are both wonderful brands.”

Newtown left the premiership competition following the 1983 season, having struggled financially while the Bears departed in 2000.

Both teams have since existed in the NSW Cup competition, with the proud North Sydney club’s officials being vocal in their bid for an NRL return.

But before both of those sides can be considered for an NRL return, Albanese is backing PNG to have success as the 18th franchise.

“This is a game changer for the relationship with PNG,” the PM said after last year’s NRL grand final. We’re definitely behind the NRL bid and, importantly, Prime Minister James Marape in PNG is very much behind an NRL team.”

PNG currently has a team in the Queensland Cup, with the Hunters being introduced into the competition in 2014. However, Justin Olam remains the only player to come through the pathway and feature in the NRL first grade, and the Hunters have struggled in recent seasons, finishing 10th in 2023.