Rugby League 9s organisers hope the return of the format to the Pacific Games after an eight-year absence will prove a springboard for the expansion of 9s in the region.
Last contested at the Samoa 2007 Pacific Games, Rugby League 9s returns at Port Moresby 2015 with six nations battling it out for medals in a two-day round-robin tournament.
Papua New Guinea, the only country in the world that calls Rugby League its national sport, is the perfect stage for the renaissance of the 9-a-side format, according to Rugby League 9s
Technical Director Tas Baitieri of the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF).
“It’s great to have Rugby League 9s back in the Pacific Games, especially in PNG where the game is held in such high esteem,” Baitieri said. “Everyone is excited to be here and looking forward to a great event.”
The Port Moresby 2015 Rugby League 9s competition features PNG, Fiji, Samoa Tonga, Cook Islands and Solomon Islands, who are making their debut in the event. Last time out, Fiji won gold, Cook Islands claimed silver and Samoa collected bronze.
“It’s encouraging to have six countries participating and to welcome the Solomon Islands, who are joining the ‘traditional’ Pacific rugby league nations,” Baitieri said.
“It should be a great competition and any one of the six competing teams could take out the gold medal.”
Baitieri hopes this year’s return to the regional spotlight will drive the expansion of Rugby League 9s in future Games.
“Our objective is to increase our numbers to 10 nations with the inclusion of Niue, Vanuatu, American Samoa and Tokelau,” Baitieri revealed.
“We also hope to introduce women’s Rugby League 9s to the Pacific Games.”
The Pacific Games Rugby League 9s tournament runs from 12-7pm on Saturday 11 July (round-robin matches) and 12-5pm on Sunday 12 July (remaining round-robin matches and finals).
The action kicks off with Samoa versus Fiji, followed by Cook Islands taking on Solomon Islands, then PNG facing Tonga in the first round of games.
Selected matches will be broadcast live across the Pacific, including in PNG (EMTV), Australia (NITV) and New Zealand (Maori TV).
Tickets are available from selected BSP branches nationwide, all Stop N Shop stores in Port Moresby and Post PNG outlets at Waterfront and Vision City.