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Attention NRL: A glorious future awaits in the Pacific

Chris Thomas new author
Roar Rookie
12th March, 2014
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Manu Vatuvei was in sensational form against Samoa. AAP Image/Action Photographics, Wayne Drought
Chris Thomas new author
Roar Rookie
12th March, 2014
39
1668 Reads

Despite being a staunch supporter of Papua New Guinea’s NRL bid, I have to accept the reality that no NRL team can be based in Port Moresby.

The main reason is the Papuan capital would not attract any quality non-Papuan players due to its continual ranking as one of the top five worst cities in the world.

Also, despite 100 per cent Papuan government support for a team in the most fanatical rugby league nation on earth, Perth are currently miles ahead in the bid for a new NRL team.

I hope my following suggestion changes this situation.

An exciting new team, based in Sydney, called Melanesia RLFC could fly into Papua for seven home games, three in Fiji and one each in Honiara (Solomon Islands), Port Vila (Vanuatu), and Noumea (New Caledonia).

Minimal travelling would be needed for ‘away’ matches against the Roosters, Eagles, Dragons, Tigers, Bulldogs, Panthers, Eels, Sharks, and Rabbitohs.

The Knights and Raiders would also be relative short trips. North Queensland could be a stop off on the way to Port Moresby.

The NRL (renamed PRL for Pacific Rugby League) would now have legitimate representation in the following countries with the following populations:

Papua: 7,059,653
Fiji: 858,038
Solomon Islands: 561,107
Vanuatu: 264,652
New Caledonia (French Colony): 258,958
Western New Guinea (under Indonesian occupation): 3,593,803

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This would add 12,363,148 people represented by a PRL team.

The PRL would expand from a two nation to an eight nation competition.

The potential for juniors is staggering. The game has exploded in Fiji in recent years, is the national sport of Papua and is in its infancy in Vanuatu, the Soloman Islands and New Caledonia. The only place the game has zero presence is Western New Guinea.

So please NRL, do not do to the loyal Papuans what the AFL has done to their likewise Tasmanians, which was steal the team they have been crying out for for years and shove it down the throat of uninterested Western Sydney, who were already represented by the Swans in the first place.

The percentage of people in Perth who care about having an NRL team is minimal. This team will be in a pathetic, costly and futile four-way battle with the Western Force, Perth Glory and daylight to become the third most popular team in sparsely populated Western Australia.

The West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers will always rule the west. The amount of players Perth would bring to the NRL would be tiny, compared to Melanesia.

They have already had a go, too.

The slogan for Melanesia’s bid? “IT’S NOT EVEN CLOSE!” (And yes, it is meant to be shouted.)

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Not exciting enough for you?

Should the New Zealand Warriors join the party and rebrand themselves as the Polynesia Warriors, for both the good of the game and their own evolution, the amount of places that would now fall under the PRL banner would include:

Hawaii (United States): 1,392,313
Fench Polynesia (France): 268,270
Samoa: 187,820
Tonga: 103,036
American Samoa (United States): 55,519
Cook Islands: 14,974
Wallis and Futuna (France): 13,135
Tuvalu: 11,323
Rapa Nui (Chile): 5,761
Niue (New Zealand): 1,613
Tokelau (New Zealand): 1,411
Pitcairn Island (United Kingdom): 47

Include 4,476,170 Kiwis and this makes the total population of Polynesia over 6.5 million. Throw in 12.3 million Melanesians and 23.2 million Australians and the total is an impressive 42,000,000 people.

Due to their small populations, many of these places will obviously never see an NRL game, especially Pitcairn Island.

However, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti and Hawaii should be considered for home games and/or trials. This would see the PRL played every year in Australia, New Zealand, Papua, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Soloman Islands, The United States (Hawaii) and two French colonies in New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

If this is too much for one season, it could be done over two years.

This coup will take on union across the Pacific and blow AFL out of the water to the point they will still be clinging to the Great Australian Bight while the PRL stands tall in over 20 places – 11 of which would get at least one yearly game and/or some pre-season trials with coaching clinics.

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This can all be achieved by the addition of just one team, with another making a name change.

Their nickname – the Warriors – would still remain, as would their logo and jumper. They would still be based in Auckland, which would always get most of their home games.

The Kiwis would again be the only rugby league team called New Zealand. Their support base would also have a healthy increase.

White New Zealanders, while not ethnically Polynesian, still live in Polynesia and would follow this team unless they were riddled with swastikas. Everything about the Warriors currently screams Polynesia anyway and there are always plenty of white faces in their stands.

Also, it must be stressed these teams will represent their respective regions, not their races. White players will turn out for both teams, Melanesians will play for Polynesia and vice versa.

The other alternative is Perth. If the NRL wants to fly their teams thousands of kilometres, at least do so to places where their presence will generate pandemonium, raise the prestige of our great game and generate countless juniors.

Melanesia versus Polynesia would also be a magnificent derby from their first ever clash. They easily have the potential to be the two most popular rugby league teams in the world – by far.

Perth will never achieve this, under any circumstances at any time.

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Many of these islands also have surprisingly impressive stadiums.

The jewell in the crown is the 50,000 seat Aloha Stadium in Hawaii, which recently held its first rugby league match.

The National Stadium in Fiji holds well over 20,000 and is a very good-looking ground. It recently drew 12,000 to a rugby league match.

Lawson Tama Stadium in the Soloman Islands has a massive hill that takes its capacity to 20,000.

Lloyd Robson Oval in PNG can also pack in 20,000 fans. It needs work but this would start as soon as the bid got the nod and a larger capacity is expected. Or even a brand new ground.

16,000 people fit into New Caledonia’s modern Stade Numa-Daly Magenta.

Apia Park handles 15,000 Samoans, which makes it pretty big.

Veterans Memorial Stadium in American Samoa, Teufaiva Sport Stadium in Tonga and Stade Hamuta in Tahiti all have a 10,000 capacity.

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The only national stadium in all these places with a sub-10,000 capacity is Korman Stadium in Vanuatu, with a modest 6500 limit.

If you were a player with a 10-year career, what would you rather: Repeated trips to Perth or experiencing the culture of multiple nations? It’s not even close.

It would be very surprising if Melanesian players rejected the opportunity to remain living in Sydney and still represent their beloved homelands if a professional infrastructure was put in place.

There are plenty of spots around Sydney where the team could base themselves with NRL-standard training facilities.

I have heard rumours of Super Rugby expanding into the Pacific. Let’s beat them to the punch. If everyone gets to work now, this can happen for the 2017 season.