Ex chief rugby league reporter adamant on PNG side becoming 18th NRL team

Wednesday, 15 May 2024, 5:13 pm

A PNG side set to be NRL 18th team (PNGRFL)

Papua New Guinea is on the brink to become the 18th team in National Rugby League (NRL), according to reports that have surfaced from media in Australia. 

Former Channel 7 chief rugby league reporter Michelle Bishop revealed that NRL is preparing to announce a PNG side as the 18th team by next month.

Since the introduction of The Dolphins in 2023 and following their success as the newest side in the top-flight competition, plans to expand NRL has been a heated agenda of discussion in the recent times. 

A PNG team is currently the hot favorite in the box to be granted the NRL license with stanch support by the Australian Federal Government.

A PNG team is on top of the box to be granted NRL license (PNGRFL)

The Australian government’s decision to support the PNG NRL bid is essentially premeditated as rugby league is the national sport in Papua New Guinea and having a team in NRL would reinforce the political bond between the two countries.

“We all have to realise that this decision will be more about national security, diplomatic strategy if you like, so obviously investing sport in that region to counter China’s growing influence over there,” The Australian journalist told SEN Radio.

“The NRL will make an official call on the 18th team to join the NRL by next month. I stand by what I said 7 months ago, it’s obviously going to be PNG [Papua New Guinea].

“We had the PNG Prime Minister over here in February at parliament talking about nurturing the relationship with Australia. Rugby league is a religion over there and it’ll do absolute wonders for that nation.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced that his government will provide $600m [about K1.4 billion] support to fund PNG’s NRL aspirations. 

Whilst Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys has welcomed the decision to add new teams to the competition, the PNG franchise is not completely confirmed as the 18th team.

Papua New Guinea on priority for NRL’s expansion plans. (PNGRFL)

However, the NRL is set to make a call on an 18th side by the end of June, when the ARL commissioners Peter Beattie and Kate Jones meet to deliberate PNG’s bid to join NRL.

“They have met with decision-makers high up within the Federal government,” V’landys said.

“I’ve also spoken to the Prime Minister about the 18th team. That’s the level we’re at now, we’re at the highest levels.

“I think it (a 20-team league) can be done within a decade or even earlier.