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Justin Olam's warning against Australian-based PNG NRL side

Jarred Cross -

Wests Tigers centre and Papua New Guinea international Justin Olam has put his faith behind a Port Moresby-based NRL team, saying a Cairns-based franchise flying in-and-out for home games misses the point.

PNG is widely considered as a frontrunner for the league's expansion, with Prime Minister James Marape, Anthony Albanese and ARLC chair Peter V'landys all putting their support behind the idea.

According to late 2023 reports, the Australian Government considered a $600 million investment package into PNG with rugby league at its focus.

During a visit to the country in January 2023, Mr Albanese told PNG Parliament "I affirm my view that I want to see a PNG based team Pacific Islanders competing in the national rugby league competition".

At the time, a Pasifka NRL side was also being put forward as an expansion possibility.

Ahead of Mr Marape addressing Australian Parliament last week, Mr Albanese reiterated his support.

"I hope the day will come when the people of Papua New Guinea can cheer for a team of their own in the National Rugby League," he said.

Mr Marape said rugby league was a crucial piece to "to unite the most diverse nation on the face of the planet".

The idea of a PNG side operating out of far-north Queensland and travelling north to host games has been speculated as a popular option.

Olam has a unique view on the future of the game in PNG, having progressed through the pathways systems from his home country toward more than 100 first grade appearances with Melbourne Storm - where he was named Dally M centre of the year in 2021, before arriving at the Tigers this off season.

He said basing a club out of Queensland would make a PNG-side label-only.

"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 PNG Hunters entered the Queensland Cup in 2013 - having won the competition in 2017, and hosting home matches at the National Football Stadium in Port Moresby since 2016.

The national mens side the Kumuls, and women's side the Orchids, have regularly drawn huge crowds at the ground.

A number of PNG players play with other Queensland Cup and UK Super League clubs.

"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."

Current NRL stars Alex Johnston, Xavier Coates and Jack de Belin have pulled on Kumuls jumpers, with Pacific Championships captain Kyle Laybutt being added to the NRL Indigenous All Stars team at the weekend.

Last year, de Belin said a PNG NRL side is a "no brainer".

Expansion into the nation also has its doubters.

On Monday, 2GB radio host Chris O'Keefe said despite 'loving' the idea of a PNG side, the idea was "fanciful", a "pipe dream" and should be "put to bed" with his doubts around corruption, safety - citing January's riots in the capital, the handling of Australian Government funding and whether the local hospital system was equipped to properly treat elite athletes.

"And as nice as all of this sounds in theory, I cannot for the life of me see how it works in practice, the NRL is better off served, looking at Perth or, more importantly, in my view, a second team in New Zealand," he said.


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