The PNG Hunters sealed the Intrust Super Cup Minor Premiership against Wynnum on Sunday. If they are able go all the way to Suncorp Stadium in September then the drums will beat louder around their ultimate ambition of entering a team into the NRL.
The predicament of the Gold Coast Titans cannot be further from the relative success of the Hunters. But this fiasco also presents an interesting proposition to consider. As the NRL look to offload their interest in the struggling Titans, could a PNG driven consortium consider a move to acquire the Gold Coast franchise? The proposal would tick lots of boxes. From an NRL perspective it would not only secure a financially viable presence in one of the heartland regions of the game but would help broaden out Rugby League to a frontier that remains the only country with the game as its national sport. Conversely, the move would present PNG with a soft entry into the NRL, provide their considerable player pipeline with a clear pathway into the competition and along the way strengthen the game internationally.
From a logistical perspective, home games would be divided up between Port Moresby and the Gold Coast. There is little doubt in anyone’s mind that the 25,000 seat National Football Stadium in Port Moresby would be a guaranteed sell out for every game and the brand of footy that the PNG players would naturally bring would inevitably generate the interest on the glitter strip to bring the crowds back to Gold Coast Stadium. The Hunters attracted nearly 15,000 to their match against Wynnum which surpasses the current Gold Coast average of 13,000 per game. Only the Broncos average more than 25,000 in the NRL.
Financially, there would be any number of corporates lining up to bankroll the team. Heineken owned SP Brewery already support the Hunters and with global Mining Heavyweights such as Exxon, Total and Oil Search in the mix there would be no issues in sourcing the $20m it takes annually to run an NRL team. Whilst the PNG Government continues to endure touch economic circumstances, their ability to support the endeavour financially is also undoubted and with the PNG economy expected to rebound in the next few years driven by several large Oil and Mining projects, the timing for their support is opportune. Basing the team on the Gold Coast would also enable the franchise to continue to attract the non PNG calibre players that the franchise would undoubtedly need to compete. Many argue that a PNG domiciled NRL franchise would be unable to attract players on the basis of the perceived issues of living in PNG.
Ultimately though, given that this is the 3rd reincarnation of a Gold Coast team, the pitfalls of going down the path of another local acquisition or a joint venture with a North Sydney Bears type entity would likely render it as another expensive failure as the Chargers and Seagulls examples showed. The Gold Coast market is notoriously fickle and as Soccer and AFL have found, its ability to be successful is driven by its relative success on the field and their ability to attract not just corporate financial support but spectator attendance off (the Titans operated at a $3m loss last year). The Hunters program is reaping rewards and the NRL entry remains a dream but with a bit of courage and foresight that dream could be a lot closer to reality than previously thought.
Photo credit: PNG Hunters Facebook Page