SEA Swift Northern Pride chief executive Brock Schaefer believes the new Papua New Guinea Intrust Super Cup club will quickly become one of his side’s fiercest rivals.
PNG’s inclusion was officially confirmed yesterday, the franchise to be based in Kokopo, northeast of Port Moresby in East New Britain Province.
With the ISC now featuring 13 sides, next year’s competition will be played over 26 rounds and start on the weekend of March 1.
Far North rugby league fans will get a sneak peek of PNG when it travels to Cairns to take on the Pride in a preseason trial at Barlow Park on February 9.
Schaefer expects that game and future encounters between the clubs to draw big crowds.
‘‘I think what you’ll see at Barlow Park is that PNG supporters may well outnumber Northern Pride supporters,’’ he said.
‘‘There’s a massive expat PNG population living in Cairns.
‘‘Also the reality is that it’s quicker to fly from Port Moresby to Cairns than it is from Cairns to Brisbane.
‘‘With that in mind, I think you’ll get a huge amount of supporters travelling down for the game.’’
Schaefer cited the number of fans who flew from Port Moresby to watch PNG club champions the Rabaul Gurias play the Pride in February as an example of the country’s appetite for rugby league.
‘‘The Gurias are just a side from a relatively small province, but they still brought with them a couple of hundred supporters,’’ Schaefer said.
‘‘We wanted PNG’s first game on Australian shores to be in Cairns and they’ve happily facilitated that.
‘‘It should be a massive occasion.’’
The country’s second-tier rugby league competitions will undergo major shake-ups next season following the NRL’s Elite Pathways Review.
The ISC and NSW Cup will both become conferences of the newly formed National Championship, which will see the respective state winners play off on NRL grand final day. Schaefer said there was enormous potential to grow the championship over the coming seasons.
‘‘The hope for the Pride and a number of clubs in Brisbane is that in 2018 we’ll see ourselves playing in a national competition,’’ he said.
‘‘We see it evolving to the level where the Northern Pride will be flying to take on the Perth expansion side or south to Sydney to play the Bulldogs’ NSW Cup side.
‘‘I think that’s the end game and that’s where we as an organisation are preparing ourselves strategically to be.’’
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