PNG not ready to be 18th NRL team: Olam

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Justin Olam has warned that Papua New Guinea is not ready for NRL expansion, despite a push for the country to be the location for the league's 18th franchise.


The battle to be the next expansion club has heated up in recent weeks, with Western Australia's government also setting up a working group to look into the prospect.

NRL officials have made no secret of the fact they want to add another team in coming seasons, with the idea of having nine games per round by 2028.

Perth will be the likely front-runner after the city's recent success in hosting State of Origin matches, while a second New Zealand franchise and fifth Queensland club are among the other options.

But there has also been a push for Papua New Guinea, including political benefits in the region.

The issue has been discussed between Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and NRL CEO Andrew Abdo, while deputy PM Richard Marles told media in Port Moresby last month "now is the time" for a PNG NRL side.

Former Canterbury CEO Andrew Hill is part of a bid team in the country, telling AAP last month he was adamant enough talent could be uncovered.

But Kumuls star Olam is not so sure.

The Melbourne centre is the success story of Papua New Guinea rugby league, starring in the domestic Digicel Cup as a 19-year-old and being elevated into the PNG Hunters in the Queensland Cup.

"We're not ready to have an NRL team yet," Olam said after the Kumuls beat Wales to qualify for the World Cup semi-finals.

"We still need to develop our pathways for younger generations. We only have the Digicel Cup competition and that is it.

"We don't have anything younger, like schoolboys competition, so players can develop and come up.

"That is something we should focus on first before we worry about having an NRL team.

"We don't want to have a PNG team and have players come in from other countries and dominate our team."

Olam's comments came as Western Australia's government began to pitch their case, highlighting the state's 4100 registered players and a time-zone advantage for broadcasters.

The government also announced it will establish a working group under politician Peter Tinley to help facilitate a third-party bid team and assist the process.

It comes after the Western Australian government met with North Sydney Bears officials in June to discuss the possibility of relocating the foundation club through Perth's bid.

"WA has strong foundations to support an NRL franchise with participation in the sport behind only NSW and Queensland, and encouragingly nearly a quarter of all registered players are female," Tinley said.

"I look forward to seeing the development of a strong third-party bid and working with them in securing an NRL franchise for Western Australia."

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