Developing rugby league in the Pacific | Pacific Beat

Developing rugby league in the Pacific

Developing rugby league in the Pacific

Updated 15 February 2012, 13:01 AEDT

Now that the Four Nations rugby league tournament is over for another year, questions are being asked about the long term viability of the competition, with Papua New Guinea failing to match it even with an under-performing England team.

So what is the way forward for rugby league in the Pacific? Have the prospects for an NRL team in PNG been damaged and what of calls for a state of origin type series to put the players of Samoa and Tonga in the spotlight?

Tas Baiteri is the Development Manager for the Rugby League International Federation.

Presenter: Campbell Cooney

Speaker: Tas Baiteri, Development Manager for the Rugby League International Federation.

BAITERI: I think a lot of people would've been disappointed Campbell, I think the preparation was good but when we look at some of the players that were unable to play in that Kumuls side, you take out players like Tu'u Maori from Newtown Jets and Roosters, Kurty Peters, Evan Youngmeade from the Titans. I mean they didn't have all their better players available due to injury, and I'm sure that they could have done better obviously.

COONEY: The players you mentioned there of course play in the Australian competitions at the NRL level and I suppose levels below that as well. But of the players who are based in PNG, I mean what's the issue here, are they just not getting the level of competition on a daily or a weekly basis during most of the year I suppose?

BAITERI: I think Campbell you've got to compare cultures as well. People here are full-time, they've got dieticians, they've got gymnasiums, they do have full-time training, they train during the day, you have the afternoons or nights off. And I think when you compare the cultures, I mean Papua New Guinea wouldn't have a gymnasium, they don't have dieticians, people have got to work for a living, they don't live off the game. So we're really comparing two systems that really aren't compatible, and unless you're in the Australian system and you saw the way the Kiwis performed on the weekend, I mean that's what people need to align themselves to if they're going to be successful in this sport.

COONEY: And passion is not enough, and there's a huge passion for the game in PNG?

BAITERI: There is and it's a wonderful place to be, I go regularly there every year, I've been six times with the Prime Minister's 13, and the amount of enthusiasm, passion and the attitude of the spectators is just phenomenal. They see these NRL stars as gods, all they want to do is touch them and talk to them and get a photo with them, it's really an honour to go up there and see how much energy is with the population there about our sport, and we've go to do everything we possibly can to keep encouraging that.

COONEY: Alright there's has been some problems up there though, that is correct, there's been some in-fighting amongst the administrators, courts have become involved, Aid money's been withheld. Now this cannot help the reputation of the game in the way that it is administrated up there?

BAITERI: No sure, I mean in any society or any business there's always going to be some issues, and unfortunately in the last 12 months the PNG RFL they've had an issue of leadership because the incumbent chairman, Albert Veratau and the person who challenged him, Gary Juffa, obviously went head-to-head, and we've had 12 months of court battles and proceedings. The justice systems did however about three months ago hand down a verdict, because they wanted the game to get back on track. They installed a former chief magistrate and a former chairman in John Numapo to head a three-man committee to continue the affairs of the game. So Numapo stood as the chairman, Gary Juffa and Albert Veratau were co-directors if you like on this three-man panel to get on with the game until the AGM at the end of this month. So they've been operating in an interim way. Numapo is the chairman and the two offsiders as their sidekicks. Numapo will manage and answer all affairs relating to the game. Gary Juffa was responsible for football, and Albert Veratau was responsible for the government relationships with Australia.

COONEY: Given the depth of those issues, given the performance during the Four Nations, I mean where does this leave the proposal to put a team up there?

BAITERI: I think the will by government, because remember the government voted about the submission to the NRL for a team to play, so there's a lot of funding there, I know that they're looking for a site for a stadium, I know they're looking at grassroots development, I think the will by the people is also encouraging, they want to see a team in the NRL. But because of all these other side issues, unless you have a strong front office, a good player base, a player base that can sort of match it with the best, well then we're always going to be chasing our tails. I think there's still a desire to see it through, whether they're successful or not is another thing.

COONEY: Alright we'll have to wait and see, Tas just finally the proposal I understand, a Samoa-Tonga State of Origin series, a lot of the players who play in the NRL and elsewhere come from there or have origins from there, and I remember being in Tonga a couple of years ago and there was a three-nations series between Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. I mean what sort of legs does this have?

BAITERI: Campbell I think we speculate a fair bit because of what players would like to do. Bear in mind that all these players are employed by NRL clubs, and they pay their wages and their wages can range anywhere from 150 to 250 and 300-thousand dollars a year. So being the owners of the players and they're employed to play in the NRL competition, to have an Origin type format as you've suggested would be difficult. You have to find a window to play that, and the only time you can do that would be in October. We've got other commitments now leading up to World Cup 2013 in the UK. The Island countries are all now, they're going to be playing in that World Cup, they're not going through any qualifications, so they've got three years now to prepare a squad that will be able to handle a World Cup in 2013 with 14 other countries.

COONEY: By the sound of that this is not going to happen?

BAITERI: Well in my opinion, I don't think it will in the short term, it may long term. We played the Tonga-Samoa game, a curtain raiser before the Kumuls and the Kangaroos at Parramatta Stadium. We had a fair crowd, and the day was a miserable day with wet, windy conditions. So I think if the stadium was full with 22-thousand people well then I think the officials would have said well listen, this is not a bad idea, we might continue with this, but we only got a half-full stadium. It rated ok on television, but there's still a fair bit of work to do on it if it's going to happen at all.

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