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The 12 existing Franchises – Kroton Hela Wigmen, Lae Snax Tigers, Agmark Rabaul Gurias, Moni Plus Port Moresby Vipers, Wamp Nga Mt Hagen Eagles, PRK Mendi Muruks, Kimbe Cutters, PRK Gulf Isou, Bintangor Goroka Lahanis, EPG Enga Mioks, GRL Central Dabaris and JPG Waghi Tumbes – have been confirmed to participate in the 2021 Digicel Cup season.

PNG National Rugby League Competition Chairman Adrian Chow said that 15 applications were received when Expressions of Interest were sought last November.

“The three unsuccessful bidders were the Motu Koita Lakatois, Simbu Warriors and Sepik Pride,” Chow said.

“We understand the amount of effort put into the bids,” he said. “The Board did not reject the bids outright.

“We want to ensure all the relevant support and requirements are correct from the beginning so that the franchises are in the competition for a long time.”

He outlined the reasons their applications were not successful for now.

“The Motu Koita Lakatois bid was well supported with reputable corporate sponsors and the proponents can bring sports administration of high standard and commercial benefits to the competition,” Chow said. “However, the PNG NRLC constitution adopted in 2018 allows only one franchise per province.”

He added that approval is required from the PNG Rugby Football League to allow two or more affiliates franchises for a province.

“We will continue to liaise and undertake the process of consultation with our stakeholders for justification before recommending to PNGRFL to accept their proposal,” he said.

As for the Simbu Warriors, Chow said the proposed naming rights sponsors was not acceptable as it breached exclusive rights granted under current competition commercial arrangements and the proposed home ground Dickson Oval was not to a satisfactory standard following inspection last month.

“We will continue to liaise with them to resolve these requirements and strengthen the merits for future bids,” he said.

He said the Sepik Pride bid was unsuccessful as it showed no evidence or letters in support of sponsorship and an active local league was lacking.

“The bid was financially weak with no real support to sustain it in the long term,” Chow said. “It is essential that local competitions be activated so a player base is established and administration is improved.”

He said the recently introduced PNGRFL decentralized governance structures and systems for local leagues and schools is timely and we encourage leagues/schools not only in Sepik but the country to seek these affiliation requirements.

He said the approval of four of the franchises -Mt Hagen Eagles, Enga Mioks, Waghi Tumbe and Gulf Isou – is subject to payment of their arrears from the 2020 season.

“The challenges of 2020 caused financial hardship to franchises and their sponsors, and extensions had been given on payment due dates,” Chow said.

“However, to maintain the high standards of the Digicel Cup Competition, the board resolved that the franchises must pay the remaining balances as a prerequisite to the 2021 season.”

Chow said the 2021 Digicel Cup competition is tentatively scheduled to kick off in April.