Mal Meninga has backed Fiji’s push to enter a team in the NSW Cup, saying Papua New Guinea’s presence in Queensland’s Intrust Super Cup has done wonders for the development of the game.
Fiji will take on the PNG Kumuls in the first of two Pacific Test matches on the Gold Coast on Saturday, with the Fijians heavy favourites to take out the inaugural Melanesian Cup.
But the Kumuls have a distinct advantage since many of their players play together for the PNG Hunters, who were accepted into the Intrust Super Cup competition last year and have been a raging success.
For years Fiji Rugby League has been advocating for a similar opportunity in NSW, with Queensland and Kangaroos legend Petero Civoniceva – a proud Fijian – this week revealing he is behind a renewed push for a license to compete in 2016.
PNG coach Meninga said he would love to see it happen.
“The Hunters program is probably a typical example of what will happen if you get a national team playing in an Australian competition at the second-tier level,” Meninga said.
“It’s had enormous benefit for rugby league in Papua New Guinea with the Hunters and whilst they didn’t make the finals last year they certainly had a huge following.
“It’s unheard of in the Intrust Super Cup to have thousands of people there watching a game every weekend, so this is the sort of interest the players have generated.
“But just from a pure development point of view up there, the players have become better players, they’ve got a greater understanding of the game, a greater understanding of what it takes to get to the top and then it creates some aspirations among their people up there.
“That’s what I think we should be working towards and trying to improve and propagate rugby league in the Pacific through those vehicles.”
Fiji coach Rick Stone said a NSW Cup slot was a recommendation of his following the nation’s involvement in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
“A Fiji team in the NSW Cup coming to Sydney every second week and a team going over to Fiji would hopefully make an inroad into rugby union,” he said.
“I think there possibly could be some players happy to cross over and come to Sydney every second week and showcase their talents and possibly get an opportunity to go to another level.”