PNG NRL bid can wait, Build pathways first: Melbourne Storm centre Olam

Justin Olam

Papua New Guinea should focus on developing young talent instead of bidding to be the 18th National Rugby League (NRL) franchise, says Melbourne Storm centre Justin Olam.

While Olam was excited about the possibility of a PNG team joining the NRL by 2026, he said the focus had to be on developing talent through player pathways to help youngsters who wished to excel in rugby league.

“I think it’s a good thing for the rugby league and for PNG as well (to join NRL),” the PNG Kumul centre said.

“From my personal point of view, I feel like we should focus more on developing younger talents instead of trying to get an NRL team.

“We need a good pathway so we can teach kids from a young age, not only in rugby league but also teach them to be good citizens as well.

“Discipline and commitment are also key factors of developing our talents in the country.”

Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys has revealed plans for an expanded NRL competition by 2026, with Papua New Guinea at the “top of the list” to win the code’s coveted 18th licence.

Australian media revealed rugby league’s multi-faceted strategic blueprint for the NRL to tap into a second overseas market in PNG under the code’s Operation ‘Turbo Charge’ expansion drive.

The PNG Government is ready and will be putting together K30 million for its bid for the 2026 season.

Sports Minister Don Polye earlier confirmed the expansion plans and the meetings with Australian officials. “We are not only looking to the plans for PNG team in rugby but we are also looking at ensuring that our chances and our plans will sustain the plans for expansion of rugby league in the country,” he said.

A PNG team in the NRL could have some value geopolitically given China’s rapid expansion into the country and the Pacific.

The Australian government will likely push for the NRL to grant their immediate neighbour the 18th licence in hopes of containing Beijing’s influence in the region.

But Olam, who visited the country last week as a Tourism Promotion Authority brand ambassador, said player pathways needed to be established and made the priority to develop talent.

The former Unitech Spartan said the upcoming Vice-Chancellor’s Cup was one platform to develop talent who were keen on balancing education and a rugby league career.

“There are a lot of good talents out there especially in the tertiary level and that’s where some of the best rugby players come from,” the 29-year-old said.

“What they (PNGRFL / PNG NRL Bid) need is to get engaged with affiliated competitions/teams so that their talent can be recognised. “I believe that balancing education and sport at the same time teaches you commitment and discipline as well and sacrifice a lot of things in life in order to be a good athlete and a good citizen,” Olam said last week.