Rugby league to hit the field in PNG

Papua New Guinea's Digicel Cup will be the second major rugby league competition in the world, following the NRL, to get underway this weekend post Covid-19.

The official opening round will feature a double header at the Sir John Guise Stadium in Port Moresby, with another action packed day booked for Sunday. Games will also be played in Lae.

PNG NRL Competition Manager, Stanley Hondina, confirmed the cost to get the competition up and running again had doubled, but he was excited to see rugby league being played in the country again.

"There were times where we would think we wouldn't have a competition, it was out of the norm, so it demanded all of us to step out and do what we could [to get competitions back underway]," he said.

Hondina said rugby league was akin to a religion in Papua New Guinea.

"People love their footy and follow it, we call it the national sport of this nation, so it was fitting for us to do all our calculations, to think outside of the box, so before the pandemic hit us we came up with a policy in PNG and set a date that we would resume.

"That's something we put our heads high and are proud of, to be the second competition in the world as far as rugby league is concerned post Covid-19 that is running. It was a collective effort that we all worked together as a team so we are proud to commence post Covid, to be the second competition at the back of NRL globally to get rugby league up."

Since a State of Emergency was lifted, teams have been following strict health and safety protocols to resume training, giving them four weeks to prepare for kick-off.

"Before the teams could commence training we were given approval to commence one competition and the PNGRFL fortunately said we should run our domestic professional competition, the Digicel Cup," said Hondina.

"We gave teams four weeks to have their training, under strict club and player protocols, and we are lucky we are able to commence our competition this weekend."

Clubs had been supportive in following health and safety guidelines for the love of rugby league, he added.

"We wouldn't be where we are today if the clubs did not comply or follow what we asked them to."

"It has been very smooth sailing for us. We got them to really understand the policy and have been monitoring through our coaching and match officials and independent officials across the venues. They've been monitoring across the country and we've seen that everyone has been complying very well where we are good to start the competition."

Only 30 percent of the ground capacity will be allowed to watch the matches in Port Moresby and Lae, because of Covid-19 restrictions, but Hondina said televising the games would ensure fans are given the opportunity to watch the games live while also showcasing PNG's rugby league talent to the world.

"The stadium has a capacity of 15 thousand people and we can only take in three thousand 500 people to see the game, so we would have issues of people at the gate before they are even open," he said.

"Thanks to TV 1, they will run Saturday's games live so that all the people who miss coming to the games, because of the limits to the stadiums, they can watch the game live from their home. We have live coverage right across PNG for the two venues played across the first six weeks of the competition, but I'm not sure whether that will be available to watch yet in other parts of the world."

While sports clubs around the world have been suffering financially because of Covid-19, Hondina said rugby league clubs in PNG were in good health and capable of getting through the season.

"There are a handful of clubs, maybe three or four, who have been struggling a little but as we go through, they've been able to set themselves some funding and establish it so they'll be able to put a team together."

"We are very mindful of our franchises, sponsors and everyone that is involved with rugby league. Sometimes we were unsure of our position but we put all our efforts together and worked together to get over the line together. That is the song we've been singing and we are confident we will get through this season together with them."