Tonga and the Cook Islands last night showed once again why international rugby league deserves more attention. They both put on an impressive display that saw the Tongans qualify for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup in front of 4,813 passionate fans in Campbelltown.
It was just the Kukis’ second game since 2013 with their only other match being played two weeks earlier after a shock loss to Niue 22-44 at Ringrose Park.
It is time Pacific Island nations played more international rugby league games.
My proposal is nothing new. I want simply to bring back the Pacific Cup to be contested by the top four nations from the region. Added to this a Pacific Shield should be contested between the next four other Pacific Islands.
If the tournament had been played this year, those teams participating in the Pacific Cup would be Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Tonga.
Cook Islands, Niue, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands meanwhile would contest the Pacific Shield.
The tournaments would become annual events (excluding World Cup years) with both taking place over a four-week period at the end of the National rugby league and Super League seasons.
The team that is victorious the year prior to a Southern Hemisphere Four Nations tournament will gain qualification to play the ‘big three’ and open the door for new teams to enter the competition.
Matches would be taken to venues across the four countries in the Pacific Cup alternating each year. The Pacific Shield would be played either at neutral venues in Australia and New Zealand, or as curtain-raisers to the Pacific Cup games.
For example, the schedule for 2016 could be as follows:
Week One – Samoa versus Papua New Guinea @ Apia Park, Fiji versus Tonga @ National Stadium
Week Two – Papua New Guinea versus Tonga @ Sir John Guise Stadium, Fiji versus Samoa @ National Stadium
Week Three – Papua New Guinea versus Fiji @ Kalabond Oval, Tonga versus Samoa @ Teufaiva Sport Stadium
The final match of both competitions would be played at a neutral venue such as Campbelltown Stadium or Okara Park.
Promotion and relegation could also take place between the two tournaments with the bottom placed Pacific Cup team taking on the winner of the Pacific Shield for a spot and the bottom placed Pacific Shield nation playing the next highest ranked Oceanian country.
Representative weekend matches would remain the same with the Melanesian and Pacific Cups. Provided strong performances in the new end-of-season tournament, nations such as the Cook Islands and Niue could soon also be included in live telecasts across Australia, New Zealand and the world.
For fans unable to get to the ground, the RLIF and APRL could use a live stream similar to that used in the Tonga versus Cook Islands Asia-Pacific World Cup qualifier or possibly negotiate a television rights deal with broadcasters throughout the region.
And as an added bonus, albeit unlikely, Niue and the Cook Islands could gain international recognition as sovereign states and become independent of New Zealand.
It is time Pacific Island nations played more international rugby league games. Junior participation throughout the region would skyrocket, the playing quality of those countries involved would drastically increase with international rugby league as a whole growing with it and rugby league could take over rugby union as the most popular sport in islands such as Tonga, Samoa and Fiji.
I believe Nigel Wood and David Smith should seriously consider making this competition a reality from next season onward.
What do you think Roarers? Should the Pacific Islands play more Tests?