International rugby league is set to return to Australia with a bang as the Kangaroos and Jillaroos rematch their World Cup Final wins as part of the new Pacific Championships.
The tournament comes as the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) announced a partnership with Anthony Albanese’s Federal Government to support rugby league in the Pacific, with an expected $7m in funding being provided to assist the tournament.
“Geography makes us neighbours, but through sport we build strong and lasting ties across the Pacific family,” said Albanese.
The tournament is just part of a $90m funding initiative designed to “deepen Pacific connections by strengthening cultural and people-to-people ties with the region and promote shared values.”
In particular, this funding will enable three weeks of international footy to be played in Papua New Guinea, with the Pacific Bowl tournament involving the PNG Kumuls, Fiji and the Cook Islands – as well as women’s games for the PNG Orchids, Fiji, Samoa and the Cook Islands – to be played in Port Moresby.
The top three nations will play for the Pacific Cup, with a three-team round robin followed by a final in Hamilton.
Tonga’s men are the notable absentees, as they will be playing England in the UK at the same time, but it is expected that they will return for the 2024 tournament with Samoa most likely travelling to the Northern Hemisphere.
The Pacific Cup will start two weeks after the NRL Grand Final, when Australia’s Men will face Samoa on October 14 in Townsville with the Jillaroos facing the Kiwi Ferns on the same day in a double header.
This will be the first Kangaroos game on home soil since 2019 and the first time both of Australia’s national teams have played on the same day at home since the 2017 World Cup Final.
The next week, the attention will shift to New Zealand, where the Kiwis will take on Toa Samoa at Eden Park with the Ferns facing Tonga’s Women, before a blockbuster between the Kiwis and Kangaroos a week later at AAMI Park in Melbourne.
A final will then be played on November 4th to round out the tournament in Hamilton, New Zealand.
Alongside the Pacific Cup, there will be a tri-series between Papua New Guinea, Fiji and the Cook Islands. They will play off over the same three weekends in Port Moresby, followed by a final on November 5.
The PNG Orchids will also play twice against the Cook Islands Women, with Samoa and Fiji Women featuring in the opening round as well.
“The Commission’s focus on growing the international game will combine with an equally strong desire to grow rugby league in the Pacific,” said ARLC Commissioner Kate Jones.
“I’d like to thank Prime Minister the Hon Anthony Albanese for his personal support of Rugby League in the Pacific, alongside the Hon Pat Conroy, the Federal Minister for International Development and the Pacific, as well as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
“The 2023 Pacific Championships will showcase the best of international Rugby League in matches across three countries. Importantly, the international matches will be highlighted by both men’s and women’s matches.
“The southern hemisphere tournaments will deliver on the broader NRL Pacific Strategy objectives – to create pathways for aspiring athletes, coaches, referees and administrators from the Pacific along with further growing international Rugby League.”
Week One – October 14-15
Australia v Samoa (men) at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
Australia v New Zealand (women) at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
PNG v Cook Islands (men) at Santos Stadium, Port Moresby
Samoa v Fiji (women) at Santos Stadium, Port Moresby
Week Two – October 21-22
New Zealand v Samoa (men) at Eden Park, Auckland
New Zealand v Tonga (women) at Eden Park, Auckland
Fiji v Cook Islands (men) at Santos Stadium, Port Moresby
PNG v Cook Islands (women) at Santos Stadium, Port Moresby
Week Three – October 28-29
Australia v New Zealand (men) at AAMI Park, Melbourne
Australia v New Zealand (women) at AAMI Park, Melbourne
PNG v Fiji (men) at Santos Stadium, Port Moresby
Week Four – November 4-5
The Final of the men’s Pacific Cup tournament on November 4 in Hamilton, New Zealand
The Final of the men’s Pacific Bowl tournament on November 5 at Santos Stadium, Port Moresby