The NRL has launched its Pacific Strategy aimed at strengthening Rugby League and building stronger business and community ties in the Pacific Islands.
NRL CEO, Mr Dave Smith, said the Pacific Islands – Samoa, Fiji, Tonga and Papua New Guinea – would play a crucial part in the game’s future.
And he said there was enormous potential to develop closer ties with government and business connections in the Pacific and build closer community relations through Rugby League.
Mr Smith will be joined by Roosters star Sonny Bill Williams and Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens in Samoa next week as part of the Pacific Strategy launch.
Jarryd Hayne will visit Fiji with other NRL stars later this year to promote the strategy.
The visits will involve everything from meetings with government and business officials through to football clinics and education programs for children.
Mr Smith said the Pacific Nations had the potential to become powerhouses of the game.
He said about 37 per cent of NRL players already come from the Pacific Islands.
“The interest in our game in Samoa is incredible, especially now that they have qualified for the Four Nations tournament at the end of the year,” he said.
“And, with the next World Cup in 2017, there is no reason one of the Pacific nations cannot make the finals of our biggest international event.
“We saw Mal Meninga coaching the Papua New Guinea Kumuls for the last World Cup and we have seen the PNG Hunters perform incredibly well in the Queensland Cup.
“So the game is on the rise in the Pacific and the timing is perfect to build our relationships on and off the field.”
Mr Smith said the Pacific Strategy would focus on:
• Game development
• Player welfare
• Commercial and corporate opportunities
• Supporting education, social and community outcomes
• Strengthening the Rugby League bodies in each nation to build the international game
Mr Smith said one of the great aspects of the program was that it enabled NRL stars like Sonny Bill Williams and Jarryd Hayne to give something back to their homelands.
The players will combine skills clinics with educational programs aimed at teaching children how to eat well and lead healthy lifestyles.
Tim Sheens, who has coached some of Australia’s finest players will also conduct coaching clinics and classes for children.
Mr Smith said the NRL already had 12 staff in Papua New Guinea who would teach life skills to about 50,000 students in 80 schools over the next three years.
“We are looking to engage up to 10,000 students in Samoa and Fiji through the NRL’s literacy and anti-bullying programs which will replicate our current “League for Life” Program in PNG.
“At the same time we want to help young people in Fiji, PNG, Samoa and Tonga develop their rugby league careers by expanding the pathways already in place which enable them to play in local competitions and, ultimately, their national teams.”
Sonny Bill said he was looking forward to working with the Samoan children and communities to help improve their lifestyles.
“I don’t think there is anything better than knowing you helped change someone’s life for the better,” he said.
“So if we can educate Samoan school children about nutrition and healthy lifestyles – and throw in some football skills as well – it will be a great outcome.”
Jarryd Hayne said playing for Fiji in the World Cup was one of the most memorable experiences of his life.
“I love the idea of giving something back to the people of Fiji and the beauty of this program is that it is all inclusive – it reaches out to boys and girls and covers everything from literacy and maths skills to sporting and social skills.
“It also encourages teamwork and we all know how important that is on and off the field.”