The NRL says PNG's inclusion is one of its key strategies for growing the game, although in PNG itself, officials appear to be backing away from their long-held desire to see a team from the country play in the NRL itself.
Brad Tassell, Chief Executive of the PNG RFL, says the focus of the new side to be coached by Michael Marum will be the development of PNG's young talent.
TASSEL: We've identified 54 players across the nation that have been invited to attend an off season camp and it's for three weeks, right up to the 20th. December. So Michael and all the coaches who'll be casting their eyes over those players and from that 54 players that have been invited, 25 players will be named at the end of that squad as the full time Queensland Cup squad for 2014.
EWART: And would you generally characterise that group as young players?
TASSEL: There's a mixture, the majority of those players are young. There's a few older heads in there as well, but the whole aim is to give players an opportunity for the growth in their Rugby League careers and open up a pathway to the NRL Competition in Australia. So the focus will be on youth, and trying to build that youth, not only to give them an opportunity, but also to build it for the next World Cup in 2017. So I think you'll find that the majority of players that will be in that final squad will be very useful, and then the next crop of talented players will be coming through the system.
EWART: So this, if you like, is the start of the rebuilding process in earnest, after the disappointment of what's just happened at the last World Cup?
TASSEL: Absolutely, but this is a start of what we've to started to implement about six months ago with the Team Kumul program.
Rugby League in Papua New Guinea has been on its knees probably realistically the last ten years. There's been no development that's taken place over that period of time and PNG has fallen further and further behind the rest of the world on a national stage So this is one of the major steps in trying to turn that around and making sure that PNG in the next three to four years will get back to its status as one of the best Rugby League matches in the world. So we're very, very confident that with implementation of the Entrusted Cup Program, the Team Kumul program and the national programs that we have in store for next next year that will gain a lot of lost ground that we've had over the last ten years.
EWART: You've talked about the entry into the Queensland Cup being part of the pathway, eventually you hope to getting a PNG team into the NRL. That is obviously what you and the rest of your team are there for is the PNG NRL bid team.
We were speaking on Pacific Beat last week, to John Wagambie, of course, and former captain of the Kumuls and his words he said. "PNG will never get into the NRL". What do you say to that?
TASSEL: First off, I just want to clarify that the PNG NRL bid and the PNG Foundation are no more. Those programs have been wound up and it's now all programs are Rugby League programs fall underneath the PNG RFL which is the governing body of Rugby League in PNG. So it will run all those program, including the Intrust Super Cup, including the Team Kumul Development Program, Schoolboys Program. So there's a little bit of misinformation out there from people who don't understand that process and to be perfectly honest, the reason for putting a team in the Queensland Cup has nothing to do with NRL or nothing to do with looking to get a future NRL licence. It is simply to give our players an opportunity, to progress in their football careers and to improve our international standard Team Kumul program as well. So if that happens in the future, then fine, if it happens, but that's not to say, because it's not what we're concentration on. We're concentrating on the Intrust Super Cup, being competitive, having a fantastic international program and a very strong national program in PNG.
EWART: Clearly though, both yourself, Mal Meninga and also the National Coach, Adrian Lam, have come under a lot of criticism since what happened in the World Cup. I mean are you satisfied that as a team, you can continue to take Rugby League in Papua New Guinea in the right direction and to put the disappointment of what happened in the UK behind you?
TASSEL: Absolutely. I think what happened in the UK was a real indication of where we're at. It's a snapshot of where Rugby League in Papua New Guinea is at.
I mean we're looking at a nation of players that were made up mostly of resident players in the local Digicel Cup Competition, trying to play against teams that are full of NRL players and Super League players. It's just impossible to compete on that basis, so we need to make our players better. We need to give them the opportunity to improve and we need to make sure that those players are playing at a high standard as possible, week in and week out and obviously the Intrust Super Cup Program and High Performance Program are the start of that. And look, this is a five year program. This is not something you can put in for six months and expect to get immediate results.
We always knew that it was going to be a hard slog, because they're so far behind the rest of the nations in the world and we're prepared and we're ready for. And look, the criticism doesn't worry us. We're quite prepared for that and we believe in what we're doing. We believe that come three or four years time, there's going to be a massive difference in Rugby League in PNG.
EWART: In the meantime though, you've got to get the fans back on board, those who were obviously bitterly disappointed at what they saw at the Rugby League World Cup. And we had reports that Adrian Lamb, in fact, has been attacked by a fan. I don't know if you could confirm that and what you would say about?
TASSEL: No mate, that's absolute misinformation, that one as well and so I don't want to comment any further on that, but obviously, there's stupid rumours that are floating around, but that's certainly untrue. No look, the fans up here in Papua New Guinea are very, very precocial about they're PNG sides and about the Kumuls and that won't change. They're obviously disappointed about the results at the World Cup, but as I said, it's a reality check. It really paints a picture of where we are at as a Rugby League nation and we need to improve. We need to start somewhere. Now yes, if we've had have started this program four or five years ago, it would have been a different performance and a different situation at the World Cup, but we have to start somewhere. There's been five or ten years of inactivity. We're starting now and I guarantee that at the next World Cup you'll see a different story.