Interview with Isaac Liri, NBC TV

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-PNG rugby league ties, PNG involvement in the NRL, expansion of rugby league in the Pacific.
Sir Hubert Murray Stadium, Port Moresby

SAAC LIRI: Will you talk please about the significance of the history between both Papua New Guinea and Australia, and what it means, and what rugby league embraces, that history that both countries have. Just elaborate further on the history…

MINISTER FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND THE PACIFIC, PAT CONROY: Sure, absolutely. Well, the first State of Origin was played on Papua New Guinean soil in 1945. That demonstrates how deep and enduring the linkages have been. I'm standing next to the Sir Dadi Toka Stand, and he was one of the first players and he was a Balmain Tigers fan. So, the history of rugby league in Papua New Guinea is deep, and it just demonstrates the people-to-people links between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

As a Roosters fan, I grew up idolising Adrian Lam, he was a great player. I've seen how Justin Olam gets received in this country, and Elsie Albert, and people like David Mead as well. So, rugby league unites our two nations, and it's my job to bring our countries closer together, and I can't think of a better thing than rugby league, to do that.

ISAAC LIRI: All right, with the sport actually expanding all across the Pacific as well, how supportive is the Australian Government towards the expansion of rugby league?

MINISTER CONROY: Oh, we're enthusiastic about it. From supporting grassroots rugby league, all the way up to elite funding the schoolgirls. Prime Minister Albanese and I announced $6 million, sorry, $7 million for the Pacific tournament, where the best national teams around the Pacific will play each other every year, with games being played in Papua New Guinea very shortly, to the $5.5 million dollars we've allocated to support the PNG bid for the 18th NRL franchise. We're all in in supporting rugby league in the Pacific.

ISAAC LIRI: Do you believe that Papua New Guinea have what it takes to put a team in the NRL in a couple of years?

MINISTER CONROY: Absolutely. I'm a great believer in it. We have to work on the infrastructure. We have to work on getting the player pipeline. Justin Olam is the first Papua New Guinean player to play all his juniors here, and then go across. If you think about someone like David Mead, he had to leave when he was 12,13,14, to enter the elite pipeline.

So, we've allocated money to grow the elite pipeline of players so school kids here can keep playing in it in Papua New Guinea, and then be up to NRL standards. But I think it's a realistic chance. Just think about it. This is a country of more than ten million people, where rugby league is the national sport. That's a huge talent of players to play for both the NRL men's and women's teams.

ISAAC LIRI: What would be your message to the young Papua New Guineans out there who have the passion and want to play in the NRL in the near future?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, a critical path is staying in school, being disciplined, embracing a healthy lifestyle. That's the only way you succeed at anything. But keep at it. I'm confident that there's a spirit of energy to deliver those NRL teams, and one day these kids can be playing on the world stage and bringing our two nations even closer together.

ISAAC LIRI: Are there any plans to properly expand into other Pacific Island countries as well, to promote rugby league?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, we're already supporting them through the international tournament, the Pacific tournament. But we support a Fijian team, the Silktails, to play in the NSW Cup under Petero Civoniceva, that great Queensland prop of Fijian heritage, and I'm hopeful of more of that. I was in Samoa at the start of the year, and obviously they were finalists in the World Cup last year and there's just huge support for rugby league in countries like Samoa and Tonga.

ISAAC LIRI: All right, since you're a Sydney Roosters fan, unfortunately they just got bumped out of the competition by the Melbourne Storm a couple of weeks back. But who do you think is going to win the NRL this season? Your tip.

MINISTER CONROY: I think Panthers are the favourite, but I'm going for anyone but the Panthers, to be honest. That's controversial. That'll probably lose me votes, but they've had a good run and it's time for someone else to get in there. Plus, I don't want them to beat the Roosters' records of two grand finals in a row, but I think it'll be a Panthers-Broncos grand final. But I've got a lot of sympathy for New Zealand Warriors. If they can come through, that will be great.

ISAAC LIRI: Thanks, Minister.


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