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Practical & pragmatic action needed for PNG rugby league

Kumuls - winning & grinning as they make a big impact on world rugby league


PORT MORESBY - It’s time to take stock after the 2017 Rugby League World Cup

The PNG Hunters this year won the Queensland Intrust-Super Cup after being in the competition just four years.

Riding on the back of that success, our national team, the Kumuls, surpassed all previous records and rising above their world ranking of 16 by winning all pool games in front of parochial sell-out crowds at the National Football Stadium in Port Moresby.

Now, with PNG knocked out in the quarter finals, the hard lessons need to be learned. Let this world cup be the beginning of bigger and better things for PNG Rugby League.

PNG rugby league board and management have hinted that they need to put in place a junior program, including a schoolboys program. These must happen without haste in 2018.

Also the time is ripe for other actors to enter the scene.

If there was ever a time to galvanise and mobilise this country of 800 languages and 1000 tribes into a united force for social action and economic participation, this is it!

This game rises above many cultural, ethnic and economic and social barriers. It can motivate an entire generation. It has a power exceeding any other single factor or event.

But the government of PNG and PNGRFL cannot leverage this potential alone.

We need mining companies to come on board. They have been given concessions and failed to declare profits. Enough of that greed. They have squandered enough of our earth passed down through the ages from the blood of our ancestors.

We need the timber companies that are desecrating our forests and undermining the rights of landowners to chip in to a better project.

We need provincial governments to commit as little as K20,000 to junior development programs and a schoolboys league.

The time to promote political ends is over. Give money to where it can make the best impact on the game itself.

We need all the charitable foundations that are trying to do some good in their own way but are really duplicating government responsibilities to come on board, not only with funds but with other resources.

We need the private sector (setting aside for a moment its fear of rascals and other social ills) to jump on board and contribute funds. They can also address law and order problems by employing more young men.

Let's get behind the government in requesting that a certain percentage of the aid dollars be directed towards programs that help to grow the game and groom young athletes to play it.

This country has a special case to make because rugby league is our national sport.

If the game grows and affect many aspects of our society, it may even help towards realising our Vision 2050 goals as well as the goals promoted by the UN.

This would have an unimaginable effect on other aspects of our country.

The Hunters management also needs to undertake a high profile membership drive around the country. Membership of the club is important. I made this suggestion some time ago and I’d like to volunteer to help achieve this.

And finally, let’s set up a trust account and ask our eight million supporters of the game to contribute K1 each to it. I bet we can come close to collecting eight million kina! Then direct these funds into specific aspects of the game like the schoolboys program.

To get started and grow the game further, these are some things that all entities and individuals can contribute.

We need to think outside the box, and do some of this before we arrive at the next world cup.

By the way, for the love of the game, I have decided to watch the game between Australia and England without supporting any one team.

I think we should put aside our disappointment with the final ref call of Tonga's try and see for what it is – it’s a call made by the ref on the field, as he saw it, and we have to move on.


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Allyn Hicks

PNG's recent win over a star studded Fiji shows that the national side can mix it with the best.

However for the game to really grow in PNG a lot more attention has to be given to developing the game at the grassroots level in order to truly benefit from the undoubted flair for the game that exists among young PNGns.

In the early 1970s/late 60s there were 98 schoolboy teams, as well as a thriving junior RL competition in Port Moresby alone.

As a result, a few years later the national team, comprising many ex schoolboys/juniors beat the French side when the French were still competitive.

Certainly get sponsorship but channel it to the grassroots level. Also get the Education Department on side and develop a thriving schoolboys competition. (Like the Queenslanders do.)

John K Kamasua

A good read, Jordan. It provides a perspective - a very good one at that too! However, if it were to be true, and it sure could from the convincing arguments, then so many conspiracies could be spawned off from this RLWC 2017.

This could explain why the game is not growing as it should on the international scene.May be not!

Still, we need to grow the game locally and provide a pathway for many of our young men and women. It can be a very effective and unique development tool given the love of the sport.

Jordan Dean

Here's an interesting observation by Robert Salmon Minsk that I'd like to share.

"RUGBY LEAGUE WORD CUP 2017 - Engineered to favour Big 3"

Seven (7) days before the game against England, the PNG Kumuls’ finals fate was written. The game was a story without hope. Nothing could have changed it.

To the superpowers of the sport (Australia, England and New Zealand) Rugby League is big business. Rugby League, like any industry, has its superpowers and minnows. The international Rugby League Federation (IRLF) is run by the Big 3. The Australian Rugby League (ARL), the NRL and the 2017 World Cup (RLWC) officials are all from the Big 3.

So the powerhouses run the game engine. They chart the course, determine who goes to the quarter finals (Samoa) and who doesn’t (Ireland), where it matters. The RLWC is the Olympics of Rugby league on earth. It generates millions of dollars. Most of it comes from the Big 3. The market size in those countries is huge.

How about PNG, Tonga or Fiji? Not even close. Naturally organizers have a market share to protect and a brand to promote. Fiji cant generate the kind of cash NZ generates. For minnow Fiji to defeat NZ out the play offs is sweet. But the feel-good story ends right there.

The “big dogs” cringe at the prospect of an all-pacific final. Such a scenario is dangerous for commercial aspect of the sport. The headache begins when the sponsors leave because the TV screens switch to union instead of League. Who in Australia or NZ want to watch Tonga play Fiji in the , RLWC2017 final?

Here is the problem. The combined TV audience across Fiji, PNG and Tonga is not even close to a quarter of the Australian audience. All Pacific Islands countries combined are not even capable of raising half the sponsorship dollars Rugby League attracts in NZ, Australia and England.

So Fiji beats one big wig. The next weekend, PNG, another minnow is up against the third big wig in a quarter final. PNG, inspired by Fiji’s feat are stacked up against an unimpressive England. Pundits begin to doubt the Englishmen’s chances of holding off a PNG Kumuls side stacked with players from within the NRL system. A real threat looms. The RLWC2017 organisers were faced with the option to either grow the international game and risk loss of the business spine or shepherd it so that TV ratings will not drop in Australia, England and Europe.

It's always a torrid affair when the Big 3 clash in the finals. TV ratings go through the roof. Many thousands enter the stadium. Merchandise sells like cake. Bennett v Meninga. Woods v Graham. Wade Graham v Sam Burgess. Widdop v Slater. Superstars. Headline acts. These are the gladiators of the game. It’s a media circus.

A final between England and Australia protects TV ratings, maintains corporate Australia and Corporate England. That’s how rugby league money is made.

Imagine a grand final where Stargroth Amean is up Against Will Hopoate or Kevin Naiqama. Ase Boas v the no name pivots for Fiji or Tonga. Michael Marum v Chistain Wolfe. Who in England, Australia or New Zealand would want to sit infront of a TV or walk into Suncorp Stadium to watch 2 Pacific Island countries play the RLWC2017 final? That day would spell disaster for the commercial aspect of the game. And it’s commerce that drives the sport. Only the big 3 are capable of growing that interest. Without it, Rugby League is dead.

I mean first of all rugby league is a business. And businesses protect their market, market demographic, market share and keep their customers happy. Rugby League’s customer base is in Australia, New Zealand and England. The rest are spread across the pacific and parts of Europe. A grand final or semi without the presence of any of the big 3 will be the day rugby league died.

Were our Kumuls beaten by a better side in the quarter finals? I have serious doubts.

The prospects of an all-pacific final was imminent. All 4 nations qualified for the quarters. All 4 pacific nations have NRL players across the 16 teams. With relaxed world cup eligibility rules the pacific nations matched the big 3. When the quarters came, teams without commercial backbone from minnow pacific nations were staring down the barrel of the big 2 remaining.

The business end of the game was at stake. This is where PNG Kumuls’ fate was written. The stakes were high. PNG had to pay the price.

PNG’s fate was written at the stroke of fulltime when Fiji beat NZ 4-2. Two pacific nations into the semi was enough for the good of the international game. Fiji and Tonga took the 2 semi spots. The other 2 spots, by default belonged to the big 2.

So give PNG an England referee. Reject the Kumul management’s protest notice. Give the Kumuls a England video referee when you are playing England. Just wow!

Kato Ottio scores on the corner, no try. Replays show England fullback Gareth Widdop attempting to kick a grubber ball dead to diffuse a chasing Ottio. Widdop misses the ball, Ottio who is contesting the ball shortly after bumps off Widdop (after Widdop misses) to score. England video ref denies the try.

Willie Minoga scores untouched, no try. Rhyse Martin is said to have infringed a would be tackler on a set piece. Video replay shows the impeded player is not disadvantaged in any way. He mantains his defensive line and is in pursuit of Minoga but stops and cries foul upon seeing Minoga in the clear.

England ruck speed was never scrutinized. PNG tacklers and markers were ordered to speed up the ruck. They determined our fate even before Captain Mead got elbowed.

That is the rugby league space we operate in. The big 3 give us hope, make us believe then write our fate and seal the deal. We hear their gospel, read their scrolls, follow the commands in their stone tablets and look up to their idols. The rest of us are mere mortals, fighting for what’s left. They are equal among gods.

Now we know that rugby league is run by a cabal of 3 nations. The inner sanctum is a domain exclusively for the gods of league. Your country has to have a commercial backbone to be given a fair chance at the play offs. Your TV audience must be in the several millions to be allowed a day in the sun. Passion is not enough.

In this business (now you know, rugby league is big business to the big 3, a game to the rest of us) there is a limit to how far a minnow can go. To get to the final is like a camel trying to get through a needle’s eye.

For now though, I look forward to the weekend. A minnow and a superpower (x 2). How awesome can it ever get? I will support Fiji on Friday and Tonga next. I will cringe to the bone jarring hits, celebrate the tries, share the agony of losing and the ecstasy of winning.

Until then, the game of rugby league is big business. There will always be 2 sides. The big 3 and the rest of us. They run the business, we play the game. Passion and profit have a place in the rugby league planet. We hope to share that space, as equals, one fine day.

Yes! I’m a believer. Enjoy this one fellas! #Peace haters.

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