PNG in the NRL. Why sport and politics must mix | Opinion

PNG in the NRL. Why sport and politics must mix | Opinion

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To get a team from Papua New Guinea in the National Rugby League competition, sport and politics must mix.

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A franchise from Papua New Guinea should be selected for the National Rugby League, says Andrew Cripps.

A franchise from Papua New Guinea should be selected for the National Rugby League, says Andrew Cripps.

SPECULATION is running riot concerning the expansion clubs that will increase the size of Australia's National Rugby League competition.

Unfortunately, there appears to be little support for the team that should be selected - a franchise from Papua New Guinea.

I can only surmise there is a lack of commercial support for promoting a team from PNG into the NRL.

That's a shame, because it makes sense on several other levels.

The reality is to get this up - sport and politics - not normally a winning combination, will need to mix.

The PNG Hunters have been competing in the Queensland state League since 2014 - winning a premiership in 2017.

Earlier this year, the Australian and PNG Governments signed an agreement to develop the country's youth, women and high performance teams.

The NRL has already had one international team in the competition since 1995 - the New Zealand Warriors.

PNG has strong geographic, historical and economic ties to Australia.

There are five reasons to accelerate this agreement and elevate a PNG team now.

Until Covid-19 is under control in PNG, an NRL team from PNG should be based in Cairns.

Until Covid-19 is under control in PNG, an NRL team from PNG should be based in Cairns. - Andrew Cripps

This would be a huge boost for Cairns and Far North Queensland. It would help to solve the problem of how to justify investment in a new square stadium in Cairns.

That would be great for the future of the Northern Pride and the game across the region.

The people of PNG are fanatical about rugby league and the entry of a national team into the NRL competition would be a source of enormous national pride and a unifying force.

When the team can eventually be based in Port Moresby, the economic benefits of the additional international flights, visitors and events-based tourism, should be significant.

Queensland, especially Far North Queensland, should embrace this platform to redouble its efforts to engage with its nearest international neighbour.

Opportunities for trade and investment, for new business and other enduring relationships, can often be catalysed off the back of a shared interest - in this case, a love of the great game of rugby league.

Just as regular exposure to the NRL saw rugby league teams from New Zealand increase in competitiveness, the NRL's opportunity to grow the game in PNG is clear.

The official PNG National Team - the Kumuls - would undoubtedly benefit from access to a pool of players with regular exposure to the NRL through a team of their own.

Strategically, closer and stronger relations between PNG and Australia are vitally important at a time when China is rolling out its international Belt and Road initiative, with large investments in several projects within PNG.

Australia should not be shy in leveraging strong ties with PNG - even those based on sport - in the national interest.

Since 1995, I've been a tragic supporter of the North Queensland Cowboys. Before that, I barracked for North Sydney and I'll admit to secret hopes the Bears will return to the NRL.

However, the case for a new NRL team from PNG is clear and should happen now.

- Andrew Cripps describes himself as a broken down old prop forward. He is also a passionate North Queenslander and a Queensland Senate candidate for the LNP.

The story PNG in the NRL. Why sport and politics must mix | Opinion first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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