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New Pacific rugby league championship unveiled

Australia will host Samoa in a rematch of last year’s men’s World Cup final to kick-off a new Pacific Rugby League Championship announced Wednesday.

The October-November tournament will feature men’s and women’s teams from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, and the Cook Islands.

The Australian government has partnered with the National Rugby League in committing Aus$7 million (US$4.5 million) over the next two years to get the event up and running.

“Geography makes us neighbours, but through sport we build strong and lasting ties across the Pacific family,” said Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, whose government has been working to strengthen Pacific relations as China expands its influence.

Almost half the players in Australia’s hugely-popular NRL are of Pasifika heritage.

Australian Rugby League Commission chief Kate Jones said one of its key strategy objectives was to grow the game and offer better pathways for aspiring Pacific athletes.

“The Commission’s focus on growing the international game will combine with an equally strong desire to grow rugby league in the Pacific,” she said.

“Importantly, the international matches will be highlighted by both men’s and women’s matches.”

The competition will kick off at the conclusion of the NRL season on October 14 with a rerun of the 2022 men’s World Cup final, which was won 30-10 by Australia in Manchester.

Games will be played in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea this year, with Fiji playing co-host to Australia in 2024.

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