League on the rise in the Pacific

Rugby League is on the crest of a wave in the South Pacific, according to Fijian international Brayden Wiliame.

The 26-year-old Catalans Dragons centre believes initiatives by the game’s ruling body in Australia to develop the sport among island nations will reap huge dividends for the game.

The NRL has announced plans to introduce a Fijian team into the New South Wales Premiership, leaving the door open to possible future promotion to the top flight. This follows the successful inclusion in 2015 of the PNG Hunters side in the Queensland Cup. The NRL has also announced plans to play future NRL matches in PNG and Fiji to help promote the sport.

“It’s massive for Fiji,” Wiliame told League Express. “It’s been a long time coming but it’s fantastic news for Rugby League in the islands.

“Everybody loves the game in Fiji, everywhere you look, people are playing Rugby League.

“But there are over 300 islands and most of them are very poor. You can be walking past a fancy hotel and the next thing you see is people living in a tin roof shanty.

“They need all the help they can get to develop the sport but it’s great news that the NRL are helping out.”

The former Parramatta and Manly player was born in New South Wales but is of Fijian descent and was first selected for their national team, the Bati, in 2015.

He believes the NRL’s expansion plans will pay off hugely, adding:

“You can see how much the international game has benefited from having a Papua New Guinea team in the Queensland Cup and now Fiji will get the same chance. Nothing but good can come from it.

“All of the islands’ teams have massive untapped potential and this could unleash future superstars of the sport.

“Just like we’ve seen with the Hunters, a competitive team in Australia has encouraged more young kids to take up the game and raises the playing standards in that country.

“The same will now happen with Fiji and it’s a win-win for Rugby League.”

Wiliame joined the Catalans in 2017 and recently signed a new two-year-deal in Perpignan.

“I’m really happy here,” he said.

“Winning at Wembley last year was unbelievable and with the squad we’ve assembled this year there’s no reason why we can’t aim for more silverware.”