Papua New Guinean hooker James Segeyaro has this week called for more international test matches for his national team and, after their performances at the Rugby League World Cup, it is hard to disagree with that notion.
The 27 year old Cronulla Shark played thirteen times for his new club following his refusal to return to Leeds Rhinos before the 2017 season and featured in all of the Kumuls’ matches this winter, some from the bench and some from the start. Especially at their home stadium in Port Moresby, the passion for the sport was evident – all three games were sell outs as PNG delivered an exhilirating and powerful brand of rugby league which saw them beat Wales, Ireland and USA before ultimately coming unstuck in the quarter finals against the first tier one side they faced in the shape of England and it is matches like the latter that Segeyaro feels would benefit rugby league in his homeland.
This week he has been quoted as saying “the more tests we get for Papua New Guinea, the more exposure our players get,” sharing his belief that more matches against high quality opposition would provide more development options for players and, in turn, allow them the chance to play for teams in the NRL and Super League while also further developing the sport in a nation where it is, already, the national sport. He further stated that “the best way for rugby league to go forward is to have tests on a more regular basis. We need to push for tests at the end of every year so more of our players get exposed and can be picked up by NRL or Super League clubs.” This would also be the case for the likes of Tonga and Samoa, although many of their players are already playing with clubs in the big two leagues, which makes it slightly peculiar that England and New Zealand have opted to have a straightforward series of test matches in 2018.
I have voiced previously the importance of involving the best tier two nations – Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji – in tier one competitions, even if they are the third team in a tri-nations format, in order to expose their players to different environments. It was evident in the quarter final that the Kumuls weren’t anywhere near as effective when playing outside of their Port Moresby home – although that may have been exaggerated and the quality of their opposition not truly taken into account – and playing in England in front of very different crowds in very different conditions would help to develop the experiences of the players while also giving them more options and putting them in new shop windows.
After all, the sport needs strong tier two nations in order to develop and this winter’s world cup has shown that the potential and passion is there – it is now down to the governing bodies to harness said potential.