As the calls for PNG to have its own NRL team grow louder, Brad Walter and Andrew Stevenson ask: could it really happen?
Gold Coast chief executive Michael Searle believes a Papua New Guinea NRL team would be more viable than one based in Perth or Adelaide.
Searle first floated the idea at a meeting of NRL club CEOs earlier this season and momentum for Papua New Guinea to have a team has intensified, with the country's Prime Minister, Michael Somare, announcing on the eve of the Kumuls' final World Cup match against Australia last Sunday that his government would put $20 million towards the bid.
As the most recent club admitted to the NRL, the Titans have become the model for any new team wanting to join the premiership, and Gold Coast chairman Paul Broughton has held more than 20 meetings with PNG officials. While some within the game are fixated on a return to Perth and Adelaide - where clubs were established and then folded during the Super League war - Searle has prepared a report on the game's long-term future that proposes the introduction of a team sharing games between PNG and Darwin.
He also supports a second team in New Zealand - possibly also playing matches in the Pacific Islands to capitalise on the growing support for the game in Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, whose coach, Joe Dakuitoga, this week predicted league was set to usurp rugby union in popularity because of the Bati's success at the World Cup.
League is already No.1 in PNG, the only country in the world where the code is the national sport.
"If we had teams along the eastern seaboard, in northern Australia and Papua New Guinea, in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, then all of a sudden we'd be looking very different to the AFL," Searle said.
"I don't believe in going to non-core markets. I believe we should look to develop the game in our core markets, and I think it's great that we've got countries knocking on our door wanting to participate in our competition. If we could own Darwin and Papua New Guinea as well as the eastern seaboard of Australia and New Zealand, that would give us demographical dominance over the AFL, who have focused on geographical dominance."
With Somare having written to the Australian Rugby League to inquire how PNG could get a team in the NRL, the only thing that would appear to be holding back the bid is a lack of money and infrastructure.
Flying to Port Moresby takes more than five hours from Sydney, and the cost of flying an NRL squad plus staff and an under-20s side puts a significant barrier in front of any PNG bid. As Searle points out, there are more than 2800 Australian companies in PNG, and many of them would see the benefit of being associated with an NRL team.
"I think Darwin could probably provide a lot of the backing through corporate hospitality, and PNG would be more about involving the big Australian companies that are there," he said. "Supporting an NRL team would be a great way for Australian businesses in PNG to provide a long-term benefit for the community they're in, and you can only imagine how much financial support there could be and what impact it would have. They've clearly got a talent pool up there but the PNG Rugby League is run on a shoestring and doesn't have a massive budget behind it so if some resources were put into it, who knows what they would be like? It could be mind-blowing."
Last week, the Cowboys announced PNG's largest rice producer, Trukai, was coming on board as a major sponsor after the club prepared a list of companies in the league-mad country and began contacting them. The deal was secured after just the second phone call by North Queensland officials. It is understood the PNG Government is also considering a new tax on foreign companies operating in the country to fund a stadium in Port Moresby.
"The things they've got to do is secure a stadium and secure sponsorship," Searle said. "If they take a long-term view, it will work."
Former Warriors CEO Mick Watson is another who believes a team in PNG could be successful. He suggests the Japanese model of corporations owning sporting teams might work, with the likes of Rio Tinto or BHP Billiton buying the franchise.
Watson is sceptical about the viability of a second New Zealand team - most likely based in Wellington - playing matches in the Pacific Islands after his experience in heading a proposed Pacifika Super 14 rugby side for Warriors owner Eric Watson.
It is believed the PNG Government, which claims to have the support of its Australian counterpart, has targeted 2015 as the year it would be ready to enter the NRL but Searle says a more realistic goal may be 2020.
NRL spokesman John Brady said the Central Coast was still viewed as the area many people felt should get a team next but noted the World Cup exposure had generated a mood to promote more opportunities for the game in the Pacific region.
"We're not looking to expand the competition at the moment but the upside with that is we weren't looking to expand it when Gold Coast came in - they simply presented a case that was compelling. There are enormous hurdles. The Gold Coast is proof positive that you've got to have the stadium but you also need facilities outside the stadium in terms of training. And it's not just a matter of one team, you've got to look after teams flying in and out. You've now got under-20s as well."