Rugby league in Papua New Guinea

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Rugby league in Papua New Guinea
Country Papua New Guinea
Governing body Papua New Guinea National Rugby League
National team Papua New Guinea
Nickname(s) the Kumuls
First played 1930s
Registered players 15,000 (total)[1]
10,000(adult), 5000 (junior)
Clubs 280
National competitions
Club competitions
Audience records
Single match 20,000+ 2010 Goroka Lahanis v Mendi Muruks 21-10

Rugby league is a popular team sport in Papua New Guinea, and is the national sport.[2][3] The people have a reputation for being the most passionate supporters of the game in the world.[4]


Papua New Guinea first came into contact with rugby league during the gold rush in the 1930s through Australian miners.[5] Australian soldiers stationed in the country during and after the Second World War reintroduced the sport[citation needed] and in 1949 and the Papua New Guinea Rugby Football League was founded.[5] It quickly became a popular spectator sport[citation needed].

During the 1960s rugby league grew to be the clear national sport of the country.[6] Despite being the most popular spectator sport, rugby league was mainly played by Australians and New Zealanders at this time. It wasn't until over the following decade did participation numbers grow to reflect spectator numbers.

The governing body for rugby league in Papua New Guinea became members of the Rugby League International Federation in 1974 and the national team's first ever Test match was a 40-12 home defeat by Great Britain a year later. They first competed in the Rugby League World Cup in the 1985-89 competition.

A record attendance was established at the Papua New Guinea Grand Final held at the Morobean capital on 8 September 2010. When the Goroka Lahanis defeated the Mendi Muruks 21-10 in front of a crowd that was believed to be 20,000+

The SP Inter-City Cup is the national competition and was first held in 1990.

Papua New Guinea was represented by Port Moresby Vipers in the Queensland Cup competition in 1996 and 1997.

The SP Cup was not held in the 2004 season due to funding problems, but the competition returned in 2005 as the Papua New Guinea National Rugby League (PNGRL).

In October 2015, after more than a year of investing and bidding, Papua New Guinea finally sealed a deal to co-host the 2017 Rugby League World Cup along with Australia and New Zealand. Due to this deal, Papua New Guinea were given their 'own pool' where they will host both of their 2 regular group game fixtures along with the additional 'inter-group' match where they will take on another team from the other 3 team pool.[7]

Governing body[edit]

The Papua New Guinea Rugby Football League are the governing body for rugby league in Papua New Guinea. They have been members of the Rugby League International Federation and Pacific Islands Rugby League Federation.

Domestic competitions[edit]

2005 saw the re-integration of the new look Papua New Guinea National Rugby League (PNGRL), formerly known as the SP Inter-City Cup. The competition is made up of nine teams from various cities or provinces around Papua New Guinea all playing for the SP Cup. The competition follows the conventional Australian NRL format, with 26 round robin games followed by the top 4 teams entering the finals play-offs.

Below the SP Cup exist many local and provincial competitions, the most prestigious of which is the Port Moresby League. In 2007 a new league called the Nokondi Cup was created for teams in the Eastern Highlands province.

A Port Moresby team (the Port Moresby Vipers) competed in the Panasonic Cup in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989; and in the Queensland Cup in 1996 and 1997. The 2014 season saw the PNG Hunters enter the Queensland Cup, based out of Kokopo.

NRL Team Bid[edit]

An official bid for a PNG team in the National Rugby League began in October 2008. The bid was launched by Sir Michael Somare.[8]

Notable players[edit]

Many Papua New Guineans have gone on to play professional rugby league either in the National Rugby League in Australia or Super League in Europe. It is the goal of the PNGRL to have 120 players participating in the NRL and Super League by 2010.[9]


Rugby league is the most popular sport in Papua New Guinea and is commonly referred to as the national sport.[10] In a nation where communities are far apart and many people live at a minimal subsistence level, rugby league has been described as a replacement for tribal warfare[citation needed] as a way of explaining the local enthusiasm for the game (a matter of life and death)[citation needed].

The annual Australian State of Origin matches are the most watched sporting event of the year[citation needed]. Australian rugby league players who have played in the annual (Australian) State of Origin clash, which is celebrated feverishly every year in Papua New Guinea, are among the most well known identities throughout the nation[citation needed].

During the 2000 Rugby League World Cup an estimated audience of 2 million[citation needed] watched the Kumuls lose to the Welsh Dragons in the quarter finals in the early hours of the morning local time. Despite this loss over 50,000 fans welcomed the team at Port Moresby Airport later that week.[6]

A sold-out crowd always comes to watch the annual match between the Kumuls and the Australian Prime Minister's XIII.


Rugby league has a huge participation rate in the junior level with every school in the country involved in a rugby league competition as rugby league is part of the school curriculum.[11] There are 5,000 registered players between the ages of 12 and 18.[citation needed]

There are 10,000 registered senior players. They compete in 40 affiliated leagues around the country. Each league has a minimum of seven clubs and each club has four teams.[citation needed]

The national team[edit]

The Papua New Guinea national rugby league team are nicknamed Kumuls after the bird-of-paradise, a national symbol of the country. Their first ever Test match was a 40-12 home defeat by England in 1975.

They compete in the Rugby League World Cup and first entered a team in the 1985-89 competition, though it was not until the 1995 Rugby League World Cup that they were able to win away from home.

The Papua New Guinea national rugby league team usually play against an Australian national rugby league team (The Prime Minister's XIII made up of players in teams that have not qualified for the National Rugby League Final Series) each year in Port Moresby. It is such a popular fixture that thousands of people can't get into the ground once it's full, causing people to climb onto the stadium roof or up trees outside the ground in order to see the match. The limited capacity of the stadium for this fixture often sparks riots. Spectators clashed with riot police during this fixture in 2006.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "PNG vow to upset World Cup odds". Rugby League. BBC. 2008-10-15. Retrieved 2009-07-03. But it would still be one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history if Papua New Guinea - the only country to have rugby league as its national sport - were to qualify for the last four. 
  3. ^ Hadfield, Dave (1995-10-08). "Island gods high in a dream world". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-10-06. 
  4. ^ Fox, Liam (3 October 2010). "Rugby League... PNG style". Correspondents Report. Australia: ABC. Retrieved 3 October 2010. 
  5. ^ a b "Papua New Guinea". Asia Pacific Rugby League Confederation. Retrieved 15 May 2015. 
  6. ^ a b PNG Kumuls' Archived 17 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Papua New Guinea to co-host Rugby League World Cup,, 8 October 2015
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 15 July 2011. Retrieved 2010-09-29. 
  9. ^ Rugby League World Cup 2008 Teams
  10. ^ Rugby League Planet - Nations
  11. ^ The big picture: PNG's grand plan to satisfy the masses

External links[edit]