It hasn’t taken long for questions to start being asked and criticism to be levelled at the NRL over reports Papua New Guinea will be the home of its 18th team.

The Albanese government reportedly has agreed to give the rugby league body $600 million to expand its competition. Despite Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V’landys saying ad nauseum that the NRL is also considering Perth, New Zealand, and maybe Queensland, it seems pretty clear what the final decision will be.

So, here is some background information on the challenges Papua New Guinea really face.

PNG was granted independence in 1975 when it became a member of the British Commonwealth, but it has had to deal with internal turmoil with the island province of Bougainville since 1988 because the island wants to be independent of PNG. That spat is still going on.

Papua New Guinea is a middle-income country with a population of nearly 12 million.

Its economy has grown by about 1.5% in the last four years and is ranked #41 in the Asia-Pacific by World Economics, which estimated the country’s real GDP was US$26 billion at the end of 2023.

The World Bank estimates PNG’s economy will grow by 4.8% this year and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) classifies it as a developing nation.

On the face of it, those aren’t disastrous statistics, but the flipside is awful. Among Papua New Guinea’s main challenges are biodiversity loss, gender-based violence and internal stability issues.

The country has been marred by riots seemingly forever. They have often been blamed on unemployment and they affect people in urban areas, especially Port Moresby. Ongoing tribal violence in the Highlands region is another problem that has seen a constant stream of people leaving there and going to Moresby to try to get away from it.

According to the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), which is a branch of the US State Department, Papua New Guinea has the second highest crime rate of any country in the world. OSAC says crime in cities like Port Moresby and Lae are among the highest in the world, and things like kidnappings, home invasions, car-jackings, and armed robberies are commonplace.

But apparently the NRL doesn’t see those things as being problematic as it hasn’t said much, if anything, about them so no one else should be worried about them either, right? A rugby league team based in Port Moresby will somehow be immune to all the bad stuff that happens there on a daily basis. Seriously?

As ESPN so aptly put it, this plan doesn’t pass the pub test. And it doesn’t.

For one thing, does the NRL believe there are enough players in New Guinea who are up to scratch and who can play at the highest level to fill a team? The answer is obviously no, meaning the local team will have to cast a net far and wide to fill its roster and that won’t be cheap.

How about the weekly flights, either outbound for the Moresby-based team or inbound for the visiting teams from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland? That will add up really fast too. Just ask the Toronto Wolfpack how well that worked out.

And by the way, what makes the NRL and/or the Albanese government think that Australian taxpayers, especially those who don’t give a hoot about rugby league or sports in general, will be okay with their tax dollars being spent on a sporting team way the hell and gone up in Papua New Guinea?

And one other thing, the PNG national football stadium where rugby league games are played has a capacity of just 15,000. That’s not huge by any stretch, so you can factor in even more money that will need to be spent on it to make it bigger. But that’s okay because Canberra has that covered too.

If the NRL is hellbent on setting up a team in Moresby, and it would appear that it is, then why doesn’t it foot the bill itself instead of having its hand out to Canberra?

The NRL has not made a formal announcement on the decision.

Brian is a strong and effective communicator with more than 30 years’ experience in broadcast and electronic media. He has been writing for Rugby League Planet since 2012 and is frequently the first reporter to break news stories about the sport. He has been our North American correspondent reporting on news in the US, Canada and Jamaica covering everything from league standings to strategy analysis to breaking news on key trades to editorials and colourful features on athletes. He is now writing about rugby league on a broader scale to cover developments around the globe. An accomplished storyteller, Brian started his career in Australian radio, before moving to the United States. He is an experienced podcast host and producer and is also a successful TV commentator having done play-by-play and analysis for ESPN, FOX Sports and the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) among others. Brian has his own YouTube channel @brianlowe5567 where he posts his interviews for Rugby League Planet. Be sure to check it out and subscribe.