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This year’s Asia Pacific Rugby League Confederation (APRLC) Annual General Meeting (AGM) focused on the strides taken off the field after a frustrating 2020 saw almost all international matches cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The meeting on Friday 13 November, which took place virtually for the first time, was attended by APRLC members from Pacific and South American nations, along with representatives from the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA).

APRLC Chairman, Mr Sandis Tsaka, acknowledged that 2020 had been “the most difficult and challenging year, not just for rugby league but all over the world”.

However, the enforced cancellation of the Oceania Cup had allowed the organisation to focus on improving various operational, administrative and financial processes, Tsaka confirmed, as he presented a report outlining key areas of progress over the past year.

Major areas of work included evolving the organisation’s strategic plan, streamlining operational rules, scoping and establishing partnerships, a new website and digital strategy, and supporting members with their annual audit requirements.

Tsaka also confirmed that the confederation expects to welcome two new members from Asia in the near future, with Philippines expected to join APRLC as an observer member, and Japan also close to finalising its membership application.

Another focus in 2020 has been women’s rugby league, with Tsaka revealing that APRLC is set to launch a Women’s Advisory Council to shape activities and strategic growth.

“Women’s rugby league is the fastest growing brand of our game in this region, bringing new relevance, visibility and market share, and so it is only fitting that APRLC is extending its work at regional level and in our national federations to create a concerted program around the women’s game in the Pacific,” he said.

One bright spot on the representative calendar was a double-header of women’s international matches in Auckland, New Zealand on Saturday 7 November featuring the Kiwi Ferns, Fetu Samoa Invitational, Tonga Invitational and Niue Invitational. New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) were congratulated for their hosting of this event.

Finalising the international calendar for 2021, including mid-year and end-of-year test matches for APRLC member nations ahead of Rugby League World Cup 2021, remains both a priority and challenge for the organisation given ongoing uncertainty about COVID-19 travel restrictions.

In other business, former Fiji National Rugby League (FNRL) Chairman, the late Peni Musunamasi, was awarded life membership of APRLC in a unanimous vote, following a nomination by former NRL International Development Manager Tas Baitieri.

Mr Musunamasi worked in rugby league in Fiji for 19 years, devoted considerable time, knowledge and finance to growing the sport there, and represented Fiji on the APRLC board until his passing in 2019.

“Life membership is the highest honour in recognition of exemplary and distinguished services,” explained Tsaka.

“The rugby league family in Fiji and Asia-Pacific, as well as his own family, will appreciate the gesture of the region’s major organisation honouring a peer who has given great service to the game in the region and in Fiji.”

The APRLC also welcomed the Honourable Peter Beattie as its new Australian director representing the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC), taking the place of retiring director, Todd Greenberg.