NRL News: Bennett to coach another new team? Bellamy thrilled with his ‘complete football player’


Papua New Guinea captain Kyle Laybutt backs the creation of a home-based NRL side and wants Wayne Bennett to be the inaugural coach.

The 28-year-old led the Kumuls to the Pacific Cup title on the international stage last year.

Laybutt welcomed recent comments by ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys that basing a PNG NRL side in Port Moresby rather than the north of Queensland was the best way forward.

The ARLC is investigating NRL expansion with PNG and Perth among leading contenders.

Bennett, off contract at the Dolphins as head coach at the end of 2024, supports a Perth bid and has said the PNG option would work if done right.

Laybutt disagrees with critics who say that players would not move to PNG to play NRL.

“Personally I would jump at the chance and take any opportunity to play NRL in Papua New Guinea” Laybutt told AAP.

“It is my second home and where my family heritage is from. I’d just have to convince the missus.

“There is a long way to go but I would like to see an NRL team based in Papua New Guinea for sure.

“That comes down to grassroots and setting up programs there first, but it would be awesome to have and I think we deserve a team.

“Every discussion Peter V’landys has had about the team he seems really excited about it and keen on the opportunity, so there are good signs.”

V’landys was a prime mover behind Bennett coaching the Dolphins in their inaugural season in 2023 and Laybutt said the master coach would make for an ideal inaugural mentor.

“It would be beneficial to have someone with the experience and knowledge of Wayne Bennett as coach so if he gets the opportunity and wants it then absolutely I would support that,” Laybutt said.

“Wayne’s record speaks for itself.”

Wayne Bennett and Kiwis captain Nathan Cayless hold aloft the World Cup trophy in 2008. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The eruption of tribal violence in PNG’s remote highlands after the death of 26 men last month led to Prime Minister James Marape handing arrest powers to the military.

The unrest followed chaotic scenes of rioting and looting in the capital Port Moresby and the nation’s second-largest city Lae in January, when at least 15 people were killed.

Laybutt said that unrest would not prevent the NRL from thriving.

“We have had a Queensland Cup team (the PNG Hunters) there for 10 years and teams have never had any issues,” Laybutt said.

“It would be hard to attract some players from overseas but if they bring local and home grown talent into an NRL squad there are a lot of boys in NRL or Super League systems now who would come back. I know that for sure.”

Meaney a low-key star at Storm

Describing Nick Meaney as a “complete football player”, Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy has no doubt the utility will succeed in his latest positional switch to the Storm centres.

Having worn the Storm No.1 jersey consistently since round 17 in 2022, Meaney has made way at fullback for the return from injury of Ryan Papenhuyzen.

Named in the centres to face premiers Penrith at AAMI Park on Friday night, it’s only Meaney’s second NRL start in the role – his previous appearance coming back in 2021.

Meaney told AAP he was always aware of Papenhuyzen’s claims on the No.1 jersey.

“I knew when I first signed here that Paps was here and he was always going to be the first-choice fullback,” Meaney said.

“I was happy with my year last year but Paps is an icon, who has done so many big things for this club.

“He’s such a great player so I know that he’s going to do a job for us at fullback.”

Nick Meaney is tackled by Joe Stimson. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

Meaney has spent pre-season training in the centres, filling the hole left by Justin Olam, who is now playing with Wests Tigers, and said he’d tried to put on some extra weight to deal with the front-line contact.

He is excited to be playing alongside halfback Jahrome Hughes and winger Will Warbrick on the right edge, adding another aerial threat to the Storm’s attack.

“They’ve been helping me a lot and I’m definitely feeling good. The coaches have helped me a lot as well,” said the 26-year-old, who is negotiating to extend his time in Melbourne.

Bellamy has always been a big fan, with Olam’s exit opening up a way to keep Meaney and Papenhuyzen in the starting side.

“He’s been great for us the two years he’s been here – last year he was our best back and probably our most consistent player,” Bellamy said. “We wanted to keep him on the side there somewhere.

“Last year he played the whole year at fullback and before that in the halves mainly, and he came to us as a winger, so I’ve got no doubt he’ll handle the centres.

“He’s been training there all pre-season and we know what a complete footy player Nick is. We’re confident he will do a good job there.”

with AAP

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