RUGBY league personality Matthew Johns says the NRL is going down the wrong path in terms of expansion and the Papua New Guinea Hunters must be the next team to join the competition.
Cities like Perth and Adelaide are frequently touted as possible locations as part of a strategic plan to grow the sport and plans for a second team in Brisbane has been on the agenda for a decade.
But Johns says the game’s administrators are guilty of tunnel vision in their pursuit of growth and should be targeting the Hunters as the next team to join the NRL.
The Hunters have been an instant success since their inaugural season in the Queensland Cup in 2014 and are one win away from being crowned this year’s premiers.
Johns believes the inclusion of the PNG side will revolutionise the NRL like the West Indies did for cricket in the 1980s.
“I urge the game to think out of the square, go away from their traditional thinking. We look at the game too narrowly and we look at the Australian continent … we keep talking that ‘we want Perth, we want Perth’ and I get that,” Johns said on Triple M’s The Grill Team.
“(But) The Pacific Islands, that’s where the growth is.
“We’ve got a situation this weekend in the Queensland Cup, the Sunshine Coast are playing against the PNG Hunters.
“It is the most underestimated story in rugby league that the PNG Hunters are in the Queensland Cup grand final, the second best competition in rugby league outside of the NRL … I put it on par with the English Super League, it is that strong of a competition.
“Last weekend in Port Moresby to get into the game [preliminary final] they were lining up for 24 hours to watch the game.
“What are we doing? When’s our plan to bring them in?
“They could be the West Indies. The West Indies revolutionised cricket in the 80s and they could do the same thing for rugby league”.
Johns played as five-eighth for the Newcastle Knights, playing outside his younger brother Andrew Johns at halfback for nine seasons.
Johns was part of the Australian squad that won the 1995 Rugby League World Cup and went on to play eight matches for his country.