PNG players embroiled in contract dispute

Officials from the Papua New Guinea Rugby Football League will seek assistance from the Rugby League International Federation to protect their best talent from being taken from under their noses following the signing of two Hunters players to contracts in England.

PNG legend Stanley Gene recently signed Hunters players Garry Lo and Jason Tali along with Charlie Wabo and Mark Mexico to contracts with the Gateshead Thunder in the Kingstone Press Championship 1, the third division of rugby league in the UK.

Scoring 23 tries in season 2014 and twice scoring four tries in a match, the power-packed Lo quickly become a cult figure in the Intrust Super Cup while Mexico joins the Thunder after spending this year contracted to Cronulla.

Although PNGRFL chairman Sandis Tsaka made the point that the development of the Hunters program and their inclusion in the Intrust Super Cup was to provide PNG players with the opportunity to further their careers, he said the manner in which the contracts were conducted was a cause for concern.

"I must reiterate that the concern of the PNGRFL is only in the manner in which an overseas team breached protocol when they did not show courtesy and respect when they come into PNG with the attitude to 'poach' players whilst they were on contract," Tsaka said in a statement released by the PNGRFL.

"This is unacceptable and must be controlled especially with the commercialisation of rugby league in PNG and throughout the world where teams will poach players for commercial reasons with little regard to player pathways and welfare and basically the growth of the sport in the domestic competitions.

"This was disrespectful not only to the PNGRFL but to the country and its institutions and processes, and as such cannot be condoned for sake of the integrity of the game, its institutions and the protocols.

"The PNGRFL has referred the matter to the RLIF with whom we are working to remedy the matter and ensure that such instances are avoided and proper protocols are observed and complied with."

PNG Sports Minister Justin Tkatchenko accused Gene of being unprofessional for not consulting with the Hunters and PNGRFL with regards to player recruitment, an accusation he was quick to defend.

"I have been doing this for the last 15 years and I always spoke directly to the players rather than the PNGRFL," Gene, head coach at Gateshead, told PNG Loop.

"PNGRFL is not happy with it but the players have signed their contracts and are looking forward to playing in the competition.

"Lo only signed a one year contract with the Hunters which expired in October so he is free to make up his mind to move as he is now eligible to talk to other clubs."

Although they failed to qualify for the finals in their inaugural season in the Intrust Super Cup, the Hunters' debut season was a tremendous success and saw Lo named the Carbine Club Rookie of the Year and Willie Minoga named the recipient of the XXXX People's Choice award at the gala awards night.

While disappointed in the manner in which contract negotiations were carried out, Tsaka said that the appeal of PNG players on the international stage is testament to the work that has been done behind the scenes in the past few years.

"From an organisation that was dysfunctional and run on an ad-hoc basis for 40 years, now we have the PNGRFL as an organisation with governance and management structures with clear institutional processes and procedures for the management and administration of the game in PNG. For the first time, we have a clear pathway, structures, development programs and a strategic vision to guide the growth of the sport in PNG," Tsaka said.

"The PNGRFL would like to make it clear that the Hunters program is not a destination but a pathway for the launching of the cream of our local talent to get recognised at the international Level. Through the Hunters program, we are making available the best local PNG talent for NRL and international scouts so that we have more Papua New Guineans playing at high level international competitions.

"In fact, one of the key indicators of the success of the PNGRFL and Hunters programs will be in the number of players that get opportunities to play international football through the program and pathway.

"The PNGRFL would like to congratulate Gary Lo, Jason Tali, Mark Mexico and any others who may have been offered contracts to play overseas. The PNGRFL respects their decision to play overseas and trusts that they will be great ambassadors of the sport and the country in their endeavours and we wish them all the best."