Albo wants to take Origin to Pacific, Benji lays out Tigers blueprint, coach may be sidelined

Albo wants to take Origin to Pacific, Benji lays out Tigers blueprint, coach may be sidelined

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says taking a State of Origin game to the Pacific Islands would be “a very welcome initiative”, following discussions with the NRL about how best to involve Australia’s Pacific neighbours.

As part of the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji, he hosted a dinner for Pacific leaders on Wednesday night, which included a viewing of the third Origin match.

During the game, Albanese sat with newly re-elected Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape, who detailed the country’s love of rugby league, and particularly the State of Origin.

“He said it’s the one time in PNG that everything stops. Everything stops through the entire country,” Mr Albanese said. “They are very passionate and it would be a great thing for such an event (as Origin) to occur (in the Pacific).”

Origin games have traditionally taken place in Brisbane and Sydney, with occasional trips to Melbourne beginning in 1990.

But in recent years, the NRL has committed to taking Origin on the road with regularity. Since 2018 at least one city outside of Brisbane and Sydney has hosted a game.

The NRL has already announced Origin fixtures in Adelaide (2023) and Melbourne (2024 and 2026) in coming years but are yet to determine the neutral venue for the 2025 series.

Another option could be taking an exhibition Origin match to the Pacific, similar to that played in Los Angeles in 1987. His comments also come amid PNG’s bid to bring the NRL’s 18th licence to the Pacific.

While the league has not yet set a time frame for granting that licence, NRL CEO Andrew Abdo previously said the introduction of the Dolphins next season was a “natural stepping stone” for including an 18th team.

“I’ve had discussions with the NRL, very directly, and I have spoken to (Australian Rugby League chair) Peter V’landys and Andrew Abdo about the Pacific’s engagement with rugby league,” Albanese said. “It would be a good thing if we gave consideration about how you get a Pacific team, a team with connections to PNG, Tonga, Samoa.”

The prime minister said increasing the Pacific’s involvement in Australian rugby league would strengthen ties with the region, which have been in the spotlight since the Solomon Islands signed a security deal with China in April.

“It’s the number one sport (in the Pacific),” he said. “In terms of the engagement, people to people relations, these things are important.

“The event last night hosted by the Australian government was attended by I think eight heads of countries. If you think about the events in which you get prime ministers and presidents of eight countries to come to an event with Australia, that’s a good thing.”

Anthony Albanese watches a South Sydney Rabbitohs NRL game at Accor Stadium, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Benji confident he can turn Tigers around

Benji Marshall is adamant he and Tim Sheens, along with Robbie Farah, can make the Wests Tigers title contenders for the first time in more than a decade.

The Kiwi great will return to the club as an assistant next season alongside Farah with Sheens returning to the head coach’s role and Marshall said on NRL 360 on Thursday night that they wanted to build a team that the fans could be proud to support every week regardless of the result.

“We’ve been in this position before in 2003 when he took over. It was very similar, we were in dire straits at the bottom of the table, he brought all these kids through that made an impact and we won a competition in 2005,” he said.

“At the moment where we sit at as a club we’ve struggled to attract players, no doubt.

“Me not having any coaching experience, the last five years of my career I felt like I did more coaching than playing. Now that doesn’t resonate to what an assistant coach does but I’ve seen the ins and outs.

“I know how to plan an attacking structure, I know what it takes to be successful in attack and that’s what my job’s going to be.

“We’re backing ourselves that Tim’s the right guy to turn that around and with us underneath him we can help that, and that’s what it’s about.

“If you look at the way we’ve been for the last 10 years, if we keep doing the same thing then the same thing is going to happen, right, so we’re making the changes.

“I’m all in, Tim’s all in, Robbie’s all in. It’s not about me, it’s about the club and it’s about the players.

“We have to create a culture where people want to be there every day and we stop having mediocre performances. We stop getting questioned if we play for the jumper. That’s what it’s about.”

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Coach faces ‘fitness test’

The Warriors will wait until the day of their game against Parramatta to determine whether Stacey Jones can coach the side.

Jones contracted COVID-19 last week and has deferred coaching duties to assistant Justin Morgan while in isolation.

The Warriors told AAP that Jones had tested negative on Thursday but will need to return another negative test on Friday before he can join the team, who fly out to Sydney on the day before the game.

Jones will not be looped in via video-conference if he is unable to coach the side in person.

Outside back Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has been ruled out of the game through COVID-19 but the virus has not spread to any other members of the playing group, as of Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Eels coach Brad Arthur will make a call on Junior Paulo’s availability on game day.

Paulo featured for NSW in the State of Origin decider at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night and while the Eels co-captain told the club he was keen to back up, a firm decision has not yet been made.

Paulo played 44 minutes of the Blues’ 22-12 loss in game three for a return of 126 run metres and three tackle breaks.