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Olam hands NRL's PNG expansion bid a reality check

George Clarke -

Justin Olam has cast doubt over plans to base a potential Papua New Guinea side in Queensland, urging NRL bosses that a team will only survive if it has boots on the ground in the Pacific nation.

Expansion to Australia's closest neighbours is a hot topic after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hosted PNG counterpart James Marape in Canberra earlier this week.

ARL commission chairman Peter V'landys said last year that placing a side in PNG was "top of the list" for expansion.

Logistical plans discussed thus far on PNG's introduction as the NRL's 18th team have centred on the side basing themselves in Cairns and flying into Port Moresby for matches.

But Wests Tigers centre Olam has urged caution, warning its legitimacy as a team for the league-mad nation will be called into question.

"Unless they're based in Port Moresby then it's an Aussie team that's going to have the label of PNG," Olam told AAP.

"I don't think it's good, I want a PNG team based in PNG for PNG players.

"For us to have that, we need to invest in our junior competition and build our pathways first because (NRL) is a big jump."

The 30-year-old is likely to be the first target if and when the NRL expansion side gets up which, according to speculation, could be as soon as 2027.

Olam remains the only player to have come through the PNG Hunters pathway and go on to play in the Australian top flight.

The Hunters were introduced to the second-tier Queensland Cup but have struggled to make an impact in recent seasons.

"The Hunters are in the Q Cup but they're not dominating every year or winning premierships," Olam said.

"I think we need to invest in the grassroots, that's what my decision would be but I'm not in power.

"My opinion is, if they're based in PNG they'll spend money, do clinics and develop the game, people would come and watch and that would generate the economy."

Olam said he was a prime example of why a PNG team needed to work from the bottom up, citing the fact that he only got recognised because he left his village for the city of Lae to study for his degree in applied physics.

For now, Olam's focus is on the Tigers and he says he harbours no ill feeling after being shipped on by Melbourne, where he won the 2020 grand final.

Olam is loving being in Sydney and remains happy to go under the radar.

"I told the Storm, 'thank you' for giving an opportunity for a young kid from PNG to live his dream," Olam said.

"I wouldn't say I'm a big-name player, we have Johnny Bateman, David Klemmer, Api Koroisau.

"We have big players already, I'm just here to help with whatever I can."

George Clarke - AAP

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