THE Australian NRL has launched a Pacific Strategy to strengthen rugby league and build stronger business and community ties in the Pacific Islands.
NRL chief executive, Dave Smith, said the Pacific Islands – Samoa, Fiji, Tonga and Papua New Guinea – will play a crucial part in the game’s future.
He said there was great potential to develop closer ties with government and business connections in the Pacific and build closer community relations through rugby league.
Mr Smith will be joined by star player Sonny Bill Williams and Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens in Samoa next week as part of the Pacific Strategy launch. Jarryd Hayne will visit Fiji with other NRL stars later this year to further promote the strategy.
The visits will involve everything from meetings with government and business officials through to football clinics and education programs for children.
Mr Smith said the Pacific nations had the potential to become powerhouses of the game.
“The interest in Samoa is incredible, especially now it has qualified for the Four Nations tournament at the end of the year,” he said.
“And, with the next World Cup in 2017, there is no reason one of the Pacific nations cannot make the finals of our biggest international event.
“We saw Mal Meninga coaching the Papua New Guinea Kumuls for the last World Cup and we have seen the PNG Hunters perform incredibly well in the Queensland Cup.
“So the game is on the rise in the Pacific and the timing is perfect to build our relationships on and off the field.”
Mr Smith said the Pacific Strategy would focus on game development, player welfare, commercial and corporate opportunities, education, social and community outcomes, and strengthening rugby league bodies in each nation to build the international game.
He said the NRL already has 12 staff in Papua New Guinea who will teach life skills to about 50,000 students in 80 schools over the next three years.
“We are looking to engage up to 10,000 students in Samoa and Fiji through the NRL’s literacy and anti-bullying programs which will replicate our current League for Life in PNG.
“At the same time we want to help young people in Fiji, PNG, Samoa and Tonga develop their rugby league careers by expanding the pathways already in place which enable them to play in local competitions and, ultimately, their national teams,” Mr Smith said.