Navigating Political Waters: The NRL and the Pacific Solution in Question

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been busy crisscrossing the globe recently searching for a legacy, but one of the dumbest ideas that he’s come up with yet is his vision for a PNG team in the NRL. Let us have a look at some of the reported comments that he, together with his travelling partner Penny Wong, and the Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy came up with at the recent Pacific Forum.

“The first PNG NRL team would also include Australian players, but a PNG identity would be ensured.”

By Australian players, are we talking about Australian citizens like Alex Johnston, Jack de Belin and Kyle Laybutt who just conveniently choose to use the rugby league heritage rules to pick up a Test match jersey or two – or are we talking about Australian players generally, including those who do not qualify for PNG?

How many Australians would be included? Surely using quotas based on race, nationality or heritage is not appropriate in the NRL, or probably in any domestic sporting competition for that matter, and if it was used, based on the skill sets of the PNG-based players who represented the country this year, this new team could set a new record for wooden spoons. Do PNG league fans really get excited watching players represent them who have no real connection to the country beyond the address of the hospital on their grandmother’s birth certificate?

What does the “first PNG NRL team” actually mean? The team for the first year perhaps, or the initial years, whatever they are? What happens after these “first” years, and which quality Australian players do they think will sign up for that initial period and blow their future contract value for good after they pick up a couple of wooden spoons? How will losing those Australian players make the PNG team more competitive in the future? Who will replace them?

How is the “PNG identity” to be ensured? Surely, they just can’t be called either “PNG” or the “Kumuls”, as that would just relegate the status of the national team to that of a club side. Wouldn’t a PNG identity require the team to be playing out of PNG and full of players from PNG?

“We are talking to PNG about how we can best support the bid. Obviously, that might involve allocating resources…”

Rest assured that “support” equals money, nothing more and nothing less, and probably lots of it. A PNG bid to join the NRL under the current criteria would otherwise fail particularly on the financial front.

The Australian government would presumably fund the deal, either directly or indirectly, through its foreign aid budget, and if so, most Australian voters would be quite justified in saying why? What’s in it for me? Supporters of existing rugby league clubs, and all other sports for that matter, could ask the same question.

(Photo by Charlotte Tattersall/Getty Images for RLWC) Does Albo actually believe that by giving PNG a likely unsuccessful rugby league team that plays virtually all of its games in Australia will convince the PNG government to slam the door shut in China’s face if they come knocking with 10 or 20 billion Yuan for some attractive belt and road initiative? If the PNG government takes the Chinese cash sometime in the future, will the Cairns Kumuls just get rebranded as the PNG Pandas, or will they disappear completely?

What happens if a future Australian Prime Minister doesn’t suffer from Albo’s level of Sinophobia or just prefers AFL to rugby league? Would the funding be pulled and the team fold?

PNG’s Deputy Prime Minister John Rosso revealed that Albanese had promised that he would advance the PNG bid to enter the NRL.

Albo does love a promise but keeping this one may be more difficult than most. He’s not in Peter V’landys’ class when it comes to wheeling, dealing and subterfuge and PVL will know that he’ll still be running the game long after Albo has that sinking feeling after being appointed as Australia’s High Commissioner to Tuvalu. It will be interesting to see how many millions of taxpayer’s dollars PVL can secure for the game without actually giving Albo anything to crow about.

Jack de Belin was previously stood down by the NRL when he faced serious charges. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images) Rosso said the team should be opened up to players from other Pacific nations. ”We’d like to have it as a Pacific rugby team moving forward in the NRL, united Pacific.”

Hang on, what happened to the PNG identity, or did Mr Rosso suddenly realise PNG won’t be winning many games without their fair share of Pasifika players? So, let’s recap, it’s a PNG side, with lots of Australians, at least for an unspecified time, and then players from other Pacific nations, and it will retain its PNG identity while at the same time having that “united Pacific” feel about it. Sheesh, I’m sure even Albo was lost at this point, but I love the idea of “united Pacific” in a rugby league sense. Has Rosso ever seen a game between Tonga and Samoa?

Albo, let’s face it, your muddled meddling raises far more questions than it provides answers, and we don’t want our game to suffer long-term damage just for your desperate attempt at some form of short-term political gain. If you really want to have an input into the greatest game of all go and cheer on the Rabbitohs, or perhaps even put your hand up to join the ARL Commission when you leave the Lodge 18 months from now.