Rugby league is the most popular team sport in Papua New Guinea, and is indeed regarded as the national sport.
The people have a reputation for being the most passionate supporters of the game in the world. Papua New Guinean rugby league has been hampered by the poor infrastructure in the country, and national competitions have proven difficult to sustain. Nonetheless rugby league remains the dominant sport, and is played across the nation, with competitions in major cities and rural regions alike.
Papua New Guinea first came into contact rugby league during the gold rush in the 1930s, through Australian miners. Australian soldiers stationed in the country during and after the Second World War reintroduced the sport and in 1949 the Papua New Guinea Rugby Football League was founded (PNGRFL). It quickly became a popular spectator sport for the people of PNG.
During the 1960s rugby league grew to be the clear national sport of the country. Despite being the most popular spectator sport, rugby league was mainly played by Australians and New Zealanders at this time. It wasn’t until over the following decade did participation numbers grow to reflect spectator numbers.The governing body for rugby league in Papua New Guinea became members of the Rugby League International Federation in 1974 and the national team’s first ever Test match was a 40-12 home defeat by Great Britain a year later.
They first competed in the Rugby League World Cup in the 1985-89 competition. A record attendance was established at the Papua New Guinea Grand Final held at the Morobean capital on the 8th of September 2010. When the Goroka Lahanis defeated the Mendi Muruks 21-10 in front of a crowd that was believed to be 20,000+. The SP Inter-City Cup is the national competition and was first held in 1990. Papua New Guinea was represented by Port Moresby Vipers in the Queensland Cup competition in 1996 and 1997. The SP Cup was not held in the 2004 season due to funding problems, but the competition returned in 2005 as the Papua New Guinea National Rugby League (PNGRL).
2005 saw the re-integration of the new look Papua New Guinea National Rugby League (PNGRL), formerly known as the SP Inter-City Cup. The competition is made up of nine teams from various cities or provinces around Papua New Guinea all playing for the SP Cup. The competition follows the conventional Australian NRL format, with 26 round robin games followed by the top 4 teams entering the finals play-offs.Below the SP Cup exist many local and provincial competitions, the most prestigious of which is the Port Moresby League. In 2007 a new league called the Nokondi Cup was created for teams in the Eastern Highlands province.A Port Moresby team (the Port Moresby Vipers) competed in the Panasonic Cup in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989; and in the Queensland Cup in 1996 and 1997.