If someone asked you what do Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne have in common? Some might say that they are one club cities, others would say they are all clubs who have ?stolen? Grand Finals at one stage, whilst others may have some less constructive comments to say about the teams, however in 2004 they have some new in common, that being that are the ones leading the charge to help reinvigorate Pacific Rugby League.
Rugby League has always struggles to truly capture the Pacific islands, mainly cause of its laize-faire style of approach to giving players from the region an opportunity to shine for their country after the Super League war.
Despite everyone knowing of the potential of the region very little was done to change the situation, with most nations focusing on their club competitions before even contemplating looking abroad. Amazingly however it was this club focus which help get League interest moving again in the Pacific Islands, the unexpected performance by the New Zealand Warriors in 2002 saw the likes of Tonga and Samoa national television asking the NRL for the rights to televise in their region.
The re-launch then of the World Sevens in 2003 continued the momentum, finally giving players in domestic competitions something to play for. This saw competitions like Samoa which was considered as good as dead in 2001, and struggling to do much in 2002, turned into a eight team strong national competition in 2003, which is expected to grow for 2004.
Now in 2004 to ensure that momentum doesn?t end, the likes of the Raiders, Storm and Broncos have stepped up to the plate, knowing fully well that they can both help the international game, as well as their own NRL by investing in some of these Pacific competitions.
Melbourne and Brisbane have teamed up to help the PNG, and plan to launch an annual tri-series between the two clubs and a PNG Presidents XIII which will be used as a trial for many locals from the PNG competitions to help them gain contracts in the NRL, NSWRL or Queensland Rugby League.
Canberra have taken the initiative to host Tonga for the last month, building up their skills and will hold their own tri-series, with the USA Tomahawks adding the match into their tour schedule of Australia.
Canberra are expected to help Tonga each year for the next few years as lead up to the 2008 Rugby League World Cup, which is no surprise with Don Furner and Matt Eliott being no strangers to helping International Rugby League.
Credit should also go to Manly, Canterbury and Newcastle for their recent work in New Zealand as well to help develop juniors.
The initiatives by these clubs if nothing else will at least raise the profile of league in the Pacific, giving the local players something to aim for, and with the Pacific Islands taking more initiative themselves, come World Cup time, some of the Islands maybe cause a few headaches for the likes of Australia.