Abbott trains with PNG women's team
In Papua New Guinea for the Pacific Islands Forum, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was put through his paces on Thursday morning, training alongside local female rugby league players who are also actively involved in the NRL-run League Bilong Laif (LBL) program.
Known for his love of rugby league and keen interest in health and fitness, the Prime Minister took the opportunity to train alongside the PNG national women's side, and learn more about the results of a program which aims to improve education and advocates for a healthy lifestyle, using rugby league as a vehicle to achieve social change.
A three-way partnership between the Australian government, PNG government and NRL, the League Bilong Laif program also has a particular focus on female participation, with PNG now boasting 70 registered female rugby league clubs.
The NRL's In-Country General Manager, Mark Mom, was on hand during the Prime Minister's visit, and described the session as a great outcome for the local game in PNG.
"The Prime Minister's office is very aware of our female development officers and our push for gender equality within the sport, particularly through this program," Mom said.
"He was really impressed and wanted to know how many females participate in the game of rugby league.
"[The local game] is growing a lot, hence why programs like ours give girls the opportunity to do development work, coach and also play. An example for us is Cathy (LBL development officer Cathy Neap). She's a development officer, she coaches and she also plays.
"The focus of our program is on education, using the game as a vehicle and also the social messaging like respect, but we utilise the interest in our program and their passion for the game to grow female participation as well."
Following the success of the PNG Hunters in the Intrust Super Cup and the growth of the international game with the PNG national side featuring in the Pacific Tests during this year's representative window, the game continues to grow in PNG. Mom claims the women's game is also generating significant interest, and is thankful for the support from both government and the NRL.
"We're constantly highlighting the issues of women in sport, and women in rugby league.
"Women are an important part of the sport, they deserve the same opportunities as the men do.
"That interest is growing, hence the opportunities are growing, and the sport and the country are giving them the space to showcase their passion and love for the game."
With a country obsessed by the greatest game of all, Mom is confident the LBL program will continue to achieve positive results, not just for the game itself but the community in general.
"You're more likely to get success with messaging and development if you have people enjoying the actual development activity. There's a passion that people have for rugby league and young people in particular enjoy watching and participating," Mom added.
"What's good for rugby league is good for the PNG community."