PNG Hunters future secure as QRL targets Toowoomba expansion

The PNG Hunters secured their future in the Intrust Super Cup until the end of 2022 on Thursday as the Queensland Rugby League targets expanding the competition by including a new club in Toowoomba.

The Hunters signed off on a new four-year participation agreement with QRL officials in Brisbane after 18 months of negotiation which included accessing the necessary funding from the NRL.

QRL competitions manager David Maiden told NRL.com what the new PNG deal means, the plans to expand the Intrust Super Cup in Toowoomba by 2021 and his view on how NRL expansion should unfold.

"The NRL is mindful of expansion at the second-tier level so they have assisted us with whole of game funding to allow PNG to continue to participate in our competition, not through QRL funding," Maiden said.

"We welcome PNG into our competition because they bring huge amounts of benefits to it but our charter is to look after Queensland Rugby League grass roots all the way through so we can’t devote significant amounts of funding to PNG to the detriment of the grassroots."

Maiden said the Hunters brought increased crowds to games due to the large ex-pat community in Queensland and also provided unique opportunities for Queensland-based players to experience another culture and play in front of massive crowds in Papua New Guinea.

QRL managing director Rob Moore, QRL chairman Bruce Hatcher, PNG Hunters chairman Sandis Tsaka and PNG Hunters CEO Reatau Rau sign off on a new four-year participation agreement for the PNG Hunters in the Intrust Super Cup.
QRL managing director Rob Moore, QRL chairman Bruce Hatcher, PNG Hunters chairman Sandis Tsaka and PNG Hunters CEO Reatau Rau sign off on a new four-year participation agreement for the PNG Hunters in the Intrust Super Cup. ©qrl.com.au

The Hunters also provide development pathways for their players with 11 picked up by NRL, Super League or other Intrust Super Cup clubs in the recent off-season.

"That creates another hole in their program for Digicel Cup players to come through, be upskilled and play Intrust Super Cup,” Maiden said.

"Their own charter was to establish a pathway for their players and that is exactly what they are doing."

The Hunters were the last new Intrust Super Cup club brought into the 14-team competition in 2014 and there are plans to include Toowoomba in 2021.

The Toowoomba Clydesdales, a foundation Queensland Cup club, last played in the competition in 2006.

Maiden said the QRL had been in discussions with Toowoomba officials for more than two years to facilitate a return.

The Toowoomba-based Western Mustangs have sides in the Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup and Hastings Deering Colts competitions.

"They want to come back into the Intrust Super Cup and it is a footprint of 7500 to 8000 participants that we need to fill with a Intrust Super Cup club so that they have got a pathway all the way through," Maiden said.

"They are very close to doing so. We want to see them get a CEO in place around 18 months out from their expected entry and a coach nine to 12 months out.

"Indications are that they are aiming for 2021 and we certainly want to support that."

Maiden said there was one other region the QRL was targeting long term for an extra Intrust Super Cup club.

"If you look at our charter it is to provide an opportunity to play at the highest level no matter what your postcode is and we pretty much have that covered if we bring in the Western Mustangs but the only other area logistically is probably around the Bundaberg and Northern Wide Bay region,” he said.

"It is currently serviced by the Capras, Sunshine Coast and Easts Tigers but what we want is for that area to be serviced by an Intrust Super Cup club. It needs to build up its participation base and probably its economic base."

With regard to NRL expansion, Maiden is in favour of another team being based in Queensland with the proviso that it would service several Intrust Super Cup clubs.

"We certainly need another NRL club in our competition that we can affiliate with but it needs to be spread over two or three [Intrust Super Cup] clubs,” he said.

"At the moment we have four NRL clubs – the Cowboys, Broncos, Titans and Storm – so if a new NRL club came in ideally it would need to affiliate with two or three Intrust Super Cup clubs. This will allow for a fair and equitable distribution of playing talent and financial support."

The Western Corridor NRL bid, aligned with the Ipswich Jets, and Redcliffe Dolphins are considered two of the front-runners if and when the NRL decides to expand.