Queensland league teams to play matches in PNG, despite safety fears

The Queensland Rugby League (QRL) has announced it will host games of its statewide competition in Papua New Guinea in a huge boost to the code and the NRL’s expansion plans.

Mar 01, 2024, updated Mar 01, 2024
Queensland Rugby League CEO and former Broncos player Ben Ikin(Photo: Fox Spofts)

Queensland Rugby League CEO and former Broncos player Ben Ikin(Photo: Fox Spofts)

The killing of at least 26 men in civil unrest in the PNG highlands in mid-February led to the QRL holding meetings with key stakeholders over whether the PNG Hunters would host Wynnum-Manly in Port Moresby on March 9 in the opening round of Queensland’s Hostplus Cup.

“We are hosting games there because it is safe enough to do it,” QRL CEO Ben Ikin told AAP on Thursday.

“The PNG Hunters have their home games like every other club and round one happens to be one off those.

“Wynnum will travel up for round one of the Hostplus Cup. I am on the plane and going as well.”

QRL chairman Bruce Hatcher told AAP recently that “player safety” was paramount, given that rioting and looting rocked Port Moresby and the nation’s second-largest city Lae in January, when at least 15 people were killed.

Ikin said the Australian High Commission had since given the same advice that they had given to all of their own staff.

“And that is that it is safe to travel and move around Port Moresby,” he said.

“In the background the QRL has partnered with DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) and the Australian government to work with the PNG RFL and the PNG Hunters to develop rugby league in PNG.

“We understand that with some of the civil unrest that is happening hundreds of kilometres away (from Port Moresby) in the same country that families might be concerned.

“So it was important for us to work with our clubs and stakeholders to communicate what is actually happening up there in real terms, and talk to the appropriate people on the ground to ensure when we do go there everything is in place.”

Players not required for NRL duty often turn out for Queensland Cup sides.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has spoken often about the Australian government’s desire to support the institution of an NRL side in PNG in an expanded competition.

The NRL is also keen to bring in a PNG side with ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys stating last week that the aim would be to base the side in PNG rather than in the previously mooted Cairns.

The QRL has been the prime mover in laying the groundwork for such a move, with their long-standing partnership with the PNG Hunters in the statewide competition.

“It is a mutually beneficial relationship,” Ikin said.

“It is the national sporting code up there. You don’t have to get out of the airport to realise how much they love rugby league.

“So working with the PNG RFL and the PNG Hunters to put in the appropriate structures is something the QRL has been passionate about for a long time.

“We have partnered with the Australian government to add some extra funding.

“That process is something that we have been very proud to be part of, and the view is that long-term they are ready for an NRL team playing out of Port Moresby.”While NRL expansion will not be a QRL decision, the fact remains that the organisation has put the building blocks in place for that to occur.

“That would cap years and years of hard work from a lot of people,” Ikin said.

“We support building the underpinning pathway and capability required to eventually get to that point.”

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