Meninga backs Fiji Cup bid
Papua New Guinea coach Mal Meninga believes the example set by the PNG Hunters in the Intrust Super Cup is the blueprint for other Pacific nations to improve their standing in international rugby league.
The Hunters are in their second year in Queensland Rugby League's premier competition and have provided nine members of the Kumul team to face Fiji in the Pacific Test double-header at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday.
Representatives from Fiji Rugby League including the legendary Petero Civoniceva have been in discussions with the New South Wales Rugby League about entering a team into the VB NSW Cup and some significant progress has already been made.
It was a suggestion made by Fiji and Newcastle coach Rick Stone on the back of the Bati's semi-final finish at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup and has the support of Meninga.
"It's the only way [to develop the Pacific teams]," Meninga said. "From a development point of view the Intrust Super Cup or NSW Cup is the first step towards that.
"The Hunters program is a typical example of what will happen if you get a national team playing in an Australian competition at the second-tier level. It's had enormous benefit for rugby league in Papua New Guinea and whilst they didn't make the finals last year they certainly had a huge following.
"From a pure development point of view up there, the players have become better players, they've got a greater understanding of the game, a greater understanding of what it takes to get to the top and then it creates some aspirations among their people up there.
"I see for the development of the game throughout the Pacific, Fiji having a team in the NSW Cup would be of significant benefit for rugby league in Fiji, the same with Samoa and Tonga.
"That's what I think we should be working towards and trying to improve and propagate rugby league in the Pacific through those vehicles."
In addition to improving the standard of the national team, Stone believes that entry of a Fijian team in the NSW Cup would give rugby league a better shot at the nation's elite athletes who have traditionally gravitated towards rugby union.
"Obviously the Hunters have done a great job in the Q Cup, not only the way they've played but the support they've got throughout the competition has been outstanding and created a massive amount of interest," Stone said.
"A Fiji team in the NSW Cup coming to Sydney every second week and a team going over to Fiji would hopefully make an inroad into rugby union.
"I think there possibly could be some players happy to cross over and come to Sydney every second week and showcase their talents and possibly get an opportunity to go to another level.
"That would be a significant step for Fijian rugby league."
Stone is preparing a Fijian team minus eligible players such as Tariq Sims, Kane Evans, Waqa Blake and Reagan Campbell-Gillard who are in camp with the Country and City teams yet still boasting NRL experience in the form of Jayson Bukuya, Marika Koroibete and Apisai Koroisau.
"It's a bit muddled there, whether you play a Test match or they see the pathway to play for New South Wales," Stone said of Fijian players' selection in the City-Country clash.
"Mal is sitting here as Queensland coach laughing at us playing a City-Country game but it still has its position in the NSW Rugby League landscape and young players probably think that they need to play in that game rather than a Test match game to be possibly chosen for NSW.
"If everyone could realise that a Pacific Test has a decent status of its own, perhaps they could pick non Pacific nation-aligned players and every one of those players could play in the Test match and we'd get more players showcasing their talents on this weekend."