‘Don’t want this NRL team’: Leisel Jones exposes $600m PNG truth

Papua New Guinea’s 18th NRL team appears to be little more than a formality at this point, but Australian swimming legend Leisel Jones has questioned whether there is any interest at all from our northern neighbours in making the move.

The NRL has had a Papua New Guinea team on its schedule since August 2023, after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese urged the country to join the league as the 18th team and pledged to invest money to make joining the competition viable.

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Last week, 2GB’s Ben Fordham announced that they expect to spend $600 million over ten years, with almost half of that $600 million going to Pacific pathways and programs.

Albanese has long said that “soft diplomacy” can help contain China’s growing influence in the Pacific.

Fordham said “the deal is done,” although there are still security concerns and logistical problems.

But when we talk about it Rush Hour with Leisel Jones, Liam & Dobbo On Monday evening, Jones said there may be an even bigger problem with Papua New Guinea’s bid.

“I just got back from Port Moresby yesterday, I had a three day trip to PNG and I heard a lot about the NRL team they are building,” Jones said.

“From what I’ve heard on the ground and spoken to a lot of people in PNG, I don’t think they want an NRL team there.

“I thought this would be a great opportunity for us to build a relationship with PNG and that it would produce a great outcome. I don’t think that’s the case.

“I’ve often heard that it’s just lip service and that a lot of the Australian government decided very quickly and spontaneously that they wanted this team for Australia for security reasons, but didn’t really think about it.

“There are many statistics in PNG that say 80 percent unemployment is the big problem. The children go to school and finish school after grade six, that is their level of education.

“An NRL team could be a disgrace to the country because there are no feeder routes. There is no NRL education in schools, there is no sports education because they don’t finish until after Year 6.

“So the Australian government is investing $600 million in Papua New Guinea. Yes, that gives us security, sure. But I don’t think the people of Papua New Guinea want this NRL team because I don’t think they’ll be proud of the result.”

Co-host Ben Dobbin said he had heard similar things from friends who do business in the area.

He added that players have suggested not taking their families with them “because they are afraid of leaving Australia with their families. It is a security risk. So players will leave their families and just gamble and take the money.”

“I don’t necessarily believe that the line has been crossed here, even if people think so.”

Papua New Guinea has the distinction of being the only nation in the world where rugby is the national sport.

Port Moresby is usually the scene of wild scenes every season when the Prime Minister’s XIII teams play in the country.

Just this week, Broncos stars Adam Reynolds, Delouise Hoeter and Ryan James visited the country and left the children with tears in their eyes.

In an interview with Fox Leagues NRL Tonight, Matt Russell said: “Passion is not an issue – logistics and unanimous support could be an issue.”

Mark Carroll called the vision “absolutely brilliant,” but admitted that there were problems on the “security side.”

Corey Parker added on SEN last week that recruitment would be an issue after ARL commission chairman Peter V’landys announced players would be based in PNG rather than North Queensland as had previously been an option.

“You would have to live in some sort of residential complex, so I thought the players would be based in Cairns and spend time in Papua New Guinea playing and training at different stages. But that may not be the case in the future,” Parker said.

“It will be extremely difficult (to recruit players).

“There would have to be some kind of financial compensation to encourage players to go and live in Papua New Guinea.”

Current NRL clubs have also reportedly called for a $170 million funding boost, including a $3.5 million lump sum to support the bid and an additional $2 million for the five seasons following PNG’s entry into the competition.

V’landys told News Corp: “It’s definitely premature. It hasn’t gone to Cabinet yet and our board hasn’t signed off on it yet, so there’s no agreement.”

“Discussions took place during the Magic Round, but each party was supposed to come back to it, so there is nothing concrete at this point.

“I was surprised at how this speculation started because it certainly didn’t come from the NRL, let’s put it that way.”

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