The PM’s XIII is awesome but the Kangaroos must take on a greater role in the Pacific

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    Mal Meninga has named his PM’s XIII side for their annual fixture against Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby, to take place next weekend, with Jack Bird, Andrew Fifita, Valentine Holmes, Apisai Koroisau, Paul Vaughan and Dylan Walker all set to run out for the first time.

    The Prime Minister’s XIII have been a staple since 2005, although the match dates back to 1988, when a President’s XIII team took on Great Britain in Queanbeyan.

    Since then, the concept has been used to promote rugby league as well as humanitarian causes throughout Papua New Guinea. But the Aussies should be doing more.

    Like the Harlem Globetrotters in basketball and All Blacks in rugby union, the Kangaroos are the most recognisable rugby league brand in the world and the green and gold have a duty to grow the game.

    However, all too often they wind up playing the same old opponents – namely England and New Zealand.

    Australia played Scotland for the first time ever just last year, which was their first against a nation ranked outside the top three since playing Samoa at the 2014 Four Nations.

    In fact, Australia haven’t played a nation other than New Zealand or England outside of a major tournament since a warm-up game against France at Perpignan back in 2005.

    Australia should join forces with the New Zealand Kiwis to schedule regular Tests against Pacific nations, helping to close the gap between tier one and two countries, and also growing the game in areas such as Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.

    At the end of each year, there should be a four-week period where the Pacific Challenge and trans-Tasman Test series are scheduled, with Australia and New Zealand playing two nations each out of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga, rotating on a biennial basis.

    These matches will take place over two weeks, starting on grand final weekend and ending the following week. The squads for all six nations will be comprised of players from NRL clubs who have been knocked out prior to the preliminary finals.

    Following these two matches, members of the final four teams will become available, with Australia and New Zealand locking in a two-match series, hosting a match each.

    This means that each year, all four Pacific Island nations will be guaranteed to play against the best in the world, while also being granted the chance to play against the other countries throughout the region.

    Using the 2018 calendar as an example, it would look as follows:

    Week 1 (Saturday, 6 October)
    Papua New Guinea versus Australia at Lloyd Robson Oval, Port Moresby
    Tonga versus New Zealand at Teufaiva Sport Stadium, Nuku’alofa
    Samoa versus Fiji at Apia Park, Apia

    Week 2 (Saturday, 13 October)
    Samoa versus Australia at Apia Park, Apia
    Fiji versus New Zealand at ANZ National Stadium, Suva
    Papua New Guinea versus Tonga at Kalabond Oval, Kokopo

    Week 3 (Saturday, 20 October)
    Australia versus New Zealand at GIO Stadium, Canberra
    Papua New Guinea versus Samoa at Lloyd Robson Oval, Port Moresby
    Tonga versus Fiji at Teufaiva Sport Stadium, Nuku’alofa

    Week 4 (Saturday, 27 October)
    New Zealand versus Australia at AMI Stadium, Christchurch
    Fiji versus Papua New Guinea at ANZ National Stadium, Suva
    Samoa versus Tonga at Apia Park, Apia

    This slots in perfectly with the current international calendar, allowing plenty of time for tour matches to be played following this four-week period.

    Australia would then be able to play a series against a country such as England, France or the United States, or take the rest of the period off.

    Guaranteeing annual fixtures not only helps to strengthen rugby league in the Asia-Pacific region, but ensures the integrity of the international game.

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