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Fiji set to formally bid for NRL expansion after national cabinet approval

Andrew Mathieson -

Fiji – and its national government – has reportedly outlined a new NRL bid among the country’s expansion plans for rugby league.

The home of the world-famous Fijian rugby sevens side and union’s Fijian Drua Super Rugby Pacific outfit since 2022, the island nation is now in line towards fulfilling the vision of ARL commission chairman Peter V’landys of increasing the number from 17 clubs to possibly up to 20 NRL clubs.

The Fijian cabinet has publicly endorsed the daring proposal, according to multiple news outlets in the country after the government’s meeting last week with the NRL.

They had agreed to submit a bid – after listening to NRL officials – in competition with proposed teams connected to Christchurch, Papua New Guinea/Cairns, Perth and North Sydney.

The proposal came about after Fijian club, Kaiviti Silktails, affiliated to the 2024 Jersey Flegg Cup in an agreement with the NSWRL governing body to play against under-21 NRL sides after three years in the Ron Massey Cup, a third-tier metropolitan league below the NRL and NSW Cup.

The idea behind the change of league was that the Jersey Flegg would provide a more-effective competition over the next three or four years before elevation into the NRL.

One report said from a cabinet press statement, while the national government would underwrite costs for an NRL side, they would offer a generous “200 per cent rebate” to sponsors, similar to what has been handed for support of Fijian Drua.

Founding NSWRL club North Sydney had previously offered to administer a side from Fiji on the proviso that up to three of its home games were played at the North Sydney Oval, and the aptly-named ‘Pasifika Bears’ would retain North’s favoured red, white and black playing strip.

It is understood that Fiji are hoping to join expansion bid from Papua New Guinea after the Australian government promised to fund a side that would play home games out of Port Moresby while being based in Cairns during the week for training.

Fijian-born, Australian-raised Petero Civoniceva, an ambassador for Fiji Airways, had been the face of Kaiviti Silktails’ earlier bid to enter Australian rugby league competitions and he is also pushing for a Fijian NRL team.

“I think that’s absolutely key if you’re going to have a franchise or anything of that sort, that you’ve got to have a very strong and robust development pathway for your primary school kids all the way into high school and leading into senior competition – that’s certainly something Fiji has,” the former Brisbane Broncos and Penrith icon told Nine’s Wide World of Sports.

“I know with great support and more opportunities like playing in the NSWRL, we can grow that next level of NRL and NRLW players for future from Fiji.”

Rugby league did not exist in Fiji until a number of high-profile rugby stars decided to break away from its union and accept an offer to represent the country unofficially at the 1992 World Rugby League Sevens in Sydney.

A new six-team national competition, under the auspices of the ARL, was formed in 1993 with the blessing of prime minister Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, a former national rugby union player.

The competition, the Vodafone Cup, has since grown to 32 clubs over two regional conferences split among a further four zones.

Fiji hosted a trial match between Melbourne Storm and Newcastle Knights in the 2024 preseason, which has led to further plans for the country to stage a NRL premiership match sooner rather than later.

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