PNG may be replaced by combined Pacific team

STEVE KILGALLON
Last updated 05:00 13/11/2010

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The Four Nations will not be cut back to just the big three, despite shrinking the rugby league tournament being more lucrative, New Zealand has pledged.

NZRL chairman Scott Carter says he would not support any move to ditch the fourth team, despite the thumpings suffered by Papua New Guinea in this year's event.

Carter did say fielding a composite Pacific Islands team instead had been "loosely talked about" and could be a long-term option.

Asked about speculation that league's International Federation would consider cutting back the tournament, Carter said: "I haven't heard that and I would disagree with it, I don't think it is the view of the partnership and it is certainly not New Zealand's view – it would be a step backwards.

"There's no doubt there are several tiers of competitiveness of the national sides, but it wasn't that long ago New Zealand was a 50-minute side.

"It's arguable that's where France, PNG, Samoa, Wales and Tonga are at, but all of those nations have players in one of the two professional leagues, and just as New Zealand became a truly competitive nation as our player pool increased, so will they.

"We've got to keep exposing these countries to the discipline and intensity of international football. Yes, it might be more lucrative to shrink the tournament and just play big tests between the top three nations."

Asked about the idea of fielding a combined Pacific side as the fourth team to try and bridge the gap to the established nations of England, Australia and New Zealand, Carter said the idea had been "loosely talked about but never been put formally to the international board for consideration" but could be a long-term prospect.

The NZRL is due to take a bigger role in Pacific Islands development after agreeing to host the new Asia-Pacific Rugby League Federation at its Auckland headquarters.

The APRLF is designed as a new governing body for the southern hemisphere and each of the seven full member nations will get a seat on its board and nominate one seat at the International Federation executive.

Carter said it made commercial, logistical and relationship sense to host the federation in Auckland.

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- Fairfax Media

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