The NRL is on the cusp of its most significant expansion in history, and it now appears to have support from Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
Albanese has indicated that his government is ready to fund this expansion, with discussions ongoing about a substantial $600 million grant to facilitate the NRL's reach into the Pacific.
The ARL Commission has already expressed its intent to add an 18th team to the competition by 2027, marking a new era in the league's history.
In a Courier Mail article, the tone and intimation was that the $600 million injection is essentially a done deal. It's important to note that Albanese has not yet provided commitment, a specific financial commitment or an indication of an allocation in the Federal Budget, but his public support for the expansion is a significant step toward making it a reality.
In Papua New Guinea, rugby league enjoys unparalleled popularity. The PM's endorsement of a PNG team, particularly if it includes infrastructure development for the island country, would be seen as significant support for a partnering nation.
The reported figure of $600 million would be distributed over a decade at $60 million per year, and that raises some questions about the reliability of the financial support should there be a change in government in the coming years.
One undeniable fact is that rugby league is the premier sport in Papua New Guinea, which has a population of just over 10 million people. The support from Albanese's government is already on display with a $7 million injection backing the Pacific Championships, which is currently underway.
The possibility of a PNG-based team in the NRL is not without its challenges. It would require attracting top-tier talent, and it's unclear how many Australian-born players would be willing to relocate to the island nation.
While there is excitement about the potential expansion, some critics point out that despite its name, the NRL still lacks representation in Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
The path to NRL expansion is still in its early stages, but with the backing of the Australian government, it could herald a new era of rugby league growth and development.