NRL insists competitiveness part of PNG criteria

Photo: PNG Hunters/Facebook

Andrew Abdo has emphasised the NRL must believe a Papua New Guinea team can be genuinely competitive before it is given the green light to enter an expanded competition.

The league will take the next step towards expansion in coming weeks, with a bidding process to be unveiled following the next ARL Commission meeting on June 26.

NRL officials have eyes on going to 20 teams by early next decade, with expansion into PNG, a second New Zealand side and a team in Perth the clear frontrunners.

It is widely expected a PNG team will be one of the first new sides to enter in either 2027 or 2028, with up to $600 million (US$400 million) in backing from the federal government to aid Australia’s ties in the Pacific.

The move does, however, have its critics.

Questions remain over the competitiveness of a PNG-based team, and whether it would be able to entice players to live in the country.

Justin Olam remains the only player to have come through the PNG Hunters system in the Queensland Cup and into the NRL.

And the Hunters have had limited success since their Queensland Cup premiership in 2017, having failed to make the finals in the five seasons since.

Regardless, Abdo said the league would assess whether a PNG-based side could be immediately competitive, in the same way the Dolphins are pushing for the finals in their second season.

“Absolutely on-the-field-football competitiveness is a criteria that will be assessed and analysed,” the NRL CEO said at the Beanies for Brain Cancer launch.

“So the ability to invest in infrastructure, a centre of excellence that creates a high performance centre, investment in pathways and talent development.

“And then obviously the recruitment of football staff appropriate to get a team that can win on the field. That is absolutely a criteria that will be assessed.

“We have a number of years to think about how we can build pathways, build infrastructure and create a team that is competitive on and off the field.

“That’s the analysis that’s being done.”

Abdo was also hopeful a PNG-based team could attract players to the country, potentially through tax exemptions previously suggested by ARLC chairman Peter V’landys.

“That will be key element that will be assessed,” he said.

“Ultimately, the long-term vision is for players to be coming from that country, developing through their system, schools and clubs and high performance and ultimately representing the club.

“In the medium term, we will need to make sure that there’s sufficient infrastructure and incentives in place to recruit players and coaches where relevant.”

Meanwhile, Abdo confirmed the NRL would announce its plans for Las Vegas 2025 fixtures by the end of the month.

Penrith, the Warriors and Canberra remain among the front-runners, alongside a Sydney club.

The league is also likely to confirm a women’s fixture and Super League component to the event. It comes as the Sydney Roosters announced their next step into the USA on Wednesday, setting up an academy for America’s west coast in Los Angeles.