Incentives, cameos and the reverse draft: Why rugby league can work in PNG

By now there have been hundreds of articles written on why it is a silly idea and why locating an NRL team in Port Moresby won’t work. It’s time we turned our minds to the positive.

If we had to do it, what needs to happen for it to work? With reality suspended let’s go to work. Here are ten crazy ideas which might just help.

1. Incentivise, incentivise, incentivise

If you know a teacher, you will know that the Department of Education are great at getting graduate teachers to move to places they do not want to go by offering them the lure of something better down the line. There are lots of variations on this, but a few that spring to mind are:

a. Place a 20 per cent loading on the salary cap as part of a remote living subsidy.
b. For every season spent in PNG players receive a 20 per cent discount off their future salary cap value.
c. Any player over the age of 32 is exempt from the salary cap.
d. Any player who plays more than five seasons for PNG automatically becomes an Immortal.


Base the team in Port Moresby for only the second half of the season. Basically June, July and August. For pre-season and the first three months base the team in Brisbane or Sydney. For the second half of the season, every game is a home game at Port Moresby.

Imagine the momentum building each week as their team play every game in front of them. For the players and WAGs, all of a sudden, playing for the PNG Hunters becomes a lot more manageable. It is a three-month fly in, fly out arrangement, living like a fancy executive.

3. Dad’s Army

There are a lot of players who retire with a season still in the tank. They can’t get another contract under the salary cap of the existing NRL teams or they don’t want to move to the UK. Let’s come up with a framework that allows them to earn good money for one more season. If nothing else, it will keep them out of the commentary box.

4. Missionary expedition

In the great tradition of PNG. Don’t look at it as a ten-year sentence, look at it as one–two-year adventure where you make lifelong friends and create memories that last forever (whilst still incentivising it). Giving back and growth the faith. This one is really about perspective – players could always get a real job instead.

5. Port Moresby is closer than Bali

With 50 young NRL players and their hangers-on living in Port Moresby it’s time to reset the trashy rite of passage which a trip to Bali has become. Did you know Port Moresby is only four hours from Sydney, whilst Bali is nearly seven? It’s a no-brainer for the mobile NRL tourist.

I’m sure a quiet word from the PM to Jetstar will free up some cheap flights. Flights with three hours fewer drinking time; it is almost a community service. It’s time to change the target and change the marketing. Move over Bintang singlet, apparently the beer up there is SP Lager, I’m sure it would look great on a T-shirt!

Seasonal donation

Forget the old approach of building a stable roster, with long-term contracts. Instead, every club must allow two of their top 30 players to play half a season with the PNG Hunters. Just rotate them in, rotate them out. This talent mixed with local talent might just be competitive. Each year offers something different, a different team, a different vibe. Imagine if Harry Grant went to the Hunters instead of the Tigers a few years back? 

Harry Grant. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

7. Cameo sentence

Any NRL player who earns a suspension of more than three weeks must spend that time playing for the Hunters. A cameo sentence – has a nice ring to it. Imagine Joseph Suaalii’s mid-season injection into another NRL team! Terrific stuff. If nothing else, I am confident it will be the crackdown on illegal play the NRL is looking for.

Cancel culture

A variation on No.7, what about any player coming back from having a cancelled contract or criminal proceedings must demonstrate their devotion to the NRL by playing a season for PNG? Michael Jennings, Taylan May, we welcome you back – but first show us how committed you really are.

9. Not honouring contracts

While we are at it, any player who doesn’t see a contract out. You can leave but you must play at least half a season for PNG as your penance. Gorden Tallis is the only one who has sat out a contract with any dignity. So from now on, that is the exit strategy for existing contracts. Do the crime, do the time.

10. The reverse draft

We couldn’t leave the draft out of this discussion, but this has a twist! Any player who plays three seasons with PNG can nominate three clubs they would like to play for next. These clubs then bid for this player’s services at the end of the three seasons. You could make a night of it and televise it! Couple this with the 60 per cent discount off the salary cap, would make these players very attractive.

PNG can work, we just have to pull the right levers. Can anyone think of any other ideas?

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