Papua New Guinea
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Special PNG experience

BY MICHAEL HILLIER
(QRL MEDIA)

As Ben Ikin took his first steps towards a rugby league field in Papua New Guinea, the Queensland Rugby League chief executive officer instantly felt the nation’s immense passion for the game.

“How Queensland is around Origin time, PNG is all the time about rugby league,” Ikin said of his recent experience.

“It’s in their DNA and they go a bit mad for it, the same way Queenslanders go for their Maroons sides.”

Ikin has only been in the job for a few short months, but he’s already clocking up the kilometres in support of rugby league communities in Queensland and abroad.

An early highlight in regional Queensland was the “magnificent” community atmosphere at Centenary Oval, the home of the Miles Devils, who hosted an Activate! Queensland Country Week match between the Redcliffe Dolphins and Burleigh Bears.

As a former Queensland Maroons player with a strong connection to the grassroots, Ikin left the country town feeling proud to “work for the QRL”.

Only a few weeks earlier, he experienced a similar feeling – but this time it came with an international flavour.

Ikin was invited to PNG by QRL colleagues Arthur Eustace-Earle and Cassie Davis, who are driving the PacificAus Sports program backed by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

“They’ve been working with the Papua New Guinea Rugby Football League (PNGRFL) and the PNG Hunters since 2019 on building pathways for aspiring rugby league players to underpin the future growth of the game,” Ikin said.

“They thought it would be good if I could get up there and have a look at what we’ve been doing, what we’re helping with, and it was the first time I’ve ever been to Papua New Guinea.

“I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve seen the pictures of travelling (Australian) Kangaroos teams when all the big stars get there, so knowing how passionate they are about rugby league I was excited to go, and also to see some of the work we’ve been doing.”

The former Brisbane Bronco spent time on the sidelines taking in all the action of a talent identification carnival at the Taurama Barracks, in Port Moresby, and was instantly drawn to the enthusiasm of the young players.

While Ikin acknowledged it would take more time to further advance many facets of the game in PNG, he saw enough to be extremely optimistic about rugby league’s future in the pacific nation.

“We should feel proud about the support we’ve given, the great work the PNGRFL have done together with the Hunters, and if this initiative keeps growing the way it is, there’s a really big and bright future for rugby league in PNG,” Ikin said.

Along with the experience of watching the skills of young locals at the Barracks, the QRL boss attended the Hostplus Cup game between the Hunters and Souths Logan Magpies at Port Moresby’s PNG Football Stadium.

Ikin was immediately impressed with the game-day operations and the atmosphere at the ground.

“That energy and enthusiasm for rugby league is now starting to have a framework wrapped around it, and that’s going to help set them up to continue to grow into the level that they see themselves being over time, which is the NRL,” Ikin said.

“The QRL’s expertise is in developing pathways, so when you look at our statewide competitions and clubs, one element is having a PNG club part of it and learning from that experience.

“We’re then also able to share our knowledge with their governing body, and say ‘ok it is good to have a club operating in our the Hostplus Cup, but to make this thing more real and more substantial as a governing body, here are all the other aspects you need to consider about building real sustainability into rugby league in PNG’.

“That’s where the QRL, with all of our history, knowledge and experience, has the capacity in partnership with DFAT, to head up to PNG and share that knowledge.”