ON the same weekend that Eden Park hosts the NRL Nines tournament, Penrith Panthers will send a team to Port Moresby to open Papua New Guinea’s magnificent new stadium.
The National Football Stadium will host Intrust Super Cup team Papua New Guinea Hunters on a permanent basis this year after they played out of Kokopo while waiting for the venue to be completed.
It’s likely that 15,000 diehard Papua New Guinean rugby league fans will pack the stadium for the friendly game to be played next Saturday.
Panthers general manager Phil Gould headed a delegation to the venue late last year when the Hunters played a few of their games at the National Football Stadium, and was immediately impressed with the facility and passion of the supporters.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the National Football Stadium hosts an NRL match within the next two or three years, with Penrith possibly involved with the influence of James Segeyaro.
Despite the travel and broadcast logistics, the lure of a club game would guarantee a sell-out. Controversially last year the Queensland Rugby League denied the Hunters a home qualifying grand final match in Port Moresby, citing the enormous costs involved.
There’s no doubt the long-term plan is for Papua New Guinea Hunters to be included in the NRL. And they aren’t the only ones looking to secure a future with a couple of bids from Queensland, and a revamped Western Australia bid heading the list.
Unfortunately, expansion of the game has been temporarily placed on hold under the new NRL blueprint.
The success of the Hunters in their short Intrust Super Cup history has been phenomenal. They left their worst performance of the year to their last, soundly beaten by eventual premiers Ipswich Jets. The result overshadowed an outstanding season for the club.
It will be a different looking Hunters side in 2016 under Michael Marum with the departure of big Willie Minoga and talented half Israel Eliab. Despite these two big losses, the Hunters are showing faith in their Digicel Cup competition in finding the next rising star.