PNG 'don't want an NRL team' as Leisel Jones makes staggering claims about $600m deal

Jones predicts PNG's NRL team will be 'an embarrassment to the country'.

Australian swimming legend Leisel Jones has claimed people in Papua New Guinea don't actually want an NRL team and the $600 million deal would actually be seen by locals as "an embarrassment to the country". Jones - who won nine Olympic medals across her illustrious swimming career - recently spent three days in PNG, where she gathered local insights. And she said the general consensus is the country doesn't want an NRL team.

"I just returned from Port Moresby yesterday, I had a three-day trip to PNG, and I've been hearing a lot about the NRL team that they're setting up," she said on Triple M’s 'The Rush Hour with Leisel Jones, Liam & Dobbo' on Tuesday. "From what I heard on the ground and speaking to a lot of people in PNG, I don't think they want an NRL team there.

Leisel Jones predicts that the NRL team in Papua New Guinea, will be 'an embarrassment to the country'. Image: Getty
Leisel Jones predicts that the NRL team in Papua New Guinea will be 'an embarrassment to the country'. Image: Getty

"I was of the opinion that it would be a great way for us to build a relationship with PNG and that it was going to be a great result. I don't think that's the case... I've been hearing a lot that it's lip service, that it was a lot of the Australian government just very quickly, just off the cuff deciding that they want to have this team for safety reasons for Australia, but really didn't think it through.

"There's a lot of stats in PNG that, 80 per cent unemployment rates [in rural areas], that's the big issue. Children are going through to school and ending at year six, that is their education level ... an NRL team might be an embarrassment to the country. The Australian Government is funding $600 million, putting into PNG. Yes, it buys us safety, sure. But the people of PNG, I don't think they want this NRL team because I don't think they're going to be proud of the result."

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
PNG Prime Minister James Marape with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at Parliament House in Canberra in January.

Her comments come as the NRL continues to work towards its bold plans to reach 20 teams in the competition in the next decade, with Papua New Guinea the first license they wish to grant. Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V'landys has previously voiced his desire to have a PNG team in the NRL for the 2028 season.

The proposal is backed by a $600 million federal government deal, with the funds intended to help the PNG franchise get off the ground and support them financially for a decade. This initiative is also seen as a way to strengthen international relations with Australia's neighbour, while also countering China's increasing influence in the Pacific.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 25:  Andrew Abdo the Chief Executive Officer of the National Rugby League and Peter V'landys the Chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission are seen as they wait to take part in the pre-game ANZAC ceremony before the round seven NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Sydney Roosters at Sydney Cricket Ground, on April 25, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Andrew Abdo and Peter V'landys are confident the NRL will have a PNG side in the league by 2028.

Minister for the Pacific Pat Conroy discussed the proposal with NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo and V'landys in May during Magic Round. But since then the NRL's venture into PNG has been made more difficult due to pushback from existing NRL teams.

Clubs have asked for a $170 million incentive to back the bid, which would see each team receive a lump sum of around $3.5 million. As well as that existing teams are also seeking an extra $2 million for five seasons starting from 2028 - the year the NRL is targeting PNG's introduction. As yet no formal agreement has been made with the federal government regarding the expansion.


The PNG franchise is still being analysed by the ARL to ensure that they would be fit for the NRL but V'landy's is confident that they will be added in the coming years. The success of the Dolphins franchise has given rugby league bosses confidence that further expanding the league is a good idea.

A team in PNG is the first part of a bold expansion plan by league bosses to reach the ideal 20-team landmark. V'landys is also reportedly targeting adding the Perth Bears as the next side.

Perth and North Sydney chiefs have reportedly been discussing a joint venture proposal, with the NRL hopeful that the Bears will play several games at the historic North Sydney Oval, with the remainder of home games to be played in Perth.

The Bears last featured in the top flight of Australian rugby league in 1999 and the NRL is reportedly keen to bring them back, while also giving Western Australia a long overdue team to support. "The Perth Bears is the ideal partnership," V’landys said last month.

"By the end of June, we will be in a position as a game to make a call on expansion... I am super confident there will eventually be 20 teams, that’s the ambition. Perth are absolutely on our hit list for expansion and it’s sooner rather than later. There’s no way North Sydney can be a stand-alone team at the moment because there’s too many teams in Sydney as it is." Besides adding a team in PNG and Perth, adding another NRL franchise in New Zealand and Brisbane is also under consideration.