Queensland Rugby League Chairman Bruce Hatcher.
Player safety will be "paramount", QRL boss Bruce Hatcher says, as PNG hosting call looms. Image by Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby league

Queensland rugby league mull PNG Cup games after unrest

Joel Gould February 20, 2024

The Queensland Rugby League (QRL) aims to make a decision by the end of the week over whether to play early round games of its statewide competition in Papua New Guinea after the killing of at least 26 men in civil unrest.

The PNG Hunters are due to host Wynnum-Manly in Port Moresby on March 9 in the opening round of Queensland’s Hostplus Cup.

QRL chairman Bruce Hatcher told AAP player safety would be “paramount” in the decision-making process.

Players not required for NRL duty often turn out for Cup sides.

The eruption of tribal violence in PNG’s remote highlands on Monday led to Prime Minister James Marape handing arrest powers to the military.

The unrest followed chaotic scenes of rioting and looting in the capital Port Moresby and the nation’s second-largest city Lae in January, when at least 15 people were killed.

AAP has been told the QRL is monitoring the outcome of the opposition party’s no-confidence vote in Marape, which is slated to be considered by the powerful private business committee on Wednesday.

A QRL meeting with relevant stakeholders is scheduled for Friday.

Hatcher said QRL would continue to liaise with the PNG Hunters over the developing situation.

“We are doing a fair bit of work with all of our connections on the ground in PNG, because player safety is absolutely paramount,” Hatcher told AAP.

“We are also getting independent advice.

“We have to be absolutely responsible and make sure any danger is minimal. We won’t be going there if the risk is greater than normal.

“Rugby league is their national sport, but the reality is that there are risks in playing there.

“We will make a final decision later this week based on the advice we get from the security organisations we deal with up there and the Australian High Commission.”

Australia and PNG rugby league teams in 2022.
 Prime ministers Anthony Albanese and James Marape with Australia and PNG teams in 2022. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS 

The NRL has plans to bring a PNG side into an expanded competition.

Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys said at the North Queensland Cowboys season launch last week that the organisation was “starting to lean towards basing it in Papua New Guinea” after it was earlier mooted the side could be headquartered in Cairns.

The guaranteed safety of players would be vital for that to occur.

The Hunters played Queensland Cup games in Australia for the best part of two seasons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hatcher said there were parallels to be drawn with the current situation and a scenario that unfolded at the end of 2022.

“When they had the elections, and COVID was rife, the PNG Hunters requested they play their last five games in Port Moresby,” Hatcher said.

“Because the election hadn’t been declared we had to wait, as there was a fair bit of civil unrest.

“We ended up cancelling four games and then cancelled the fifth against Mackay.

“I was in the QRL office on the Wednesday morning and I got a call from the (PNG) prime minister who said he wanted the game to go on.

“He promised to ensure high safety protection for all the players and officials. We ended up flying the teams up there on the morning of the game.”