19 Aug 2014

Sport: NRL boss says Pacific is a big part of rugby league's future

11:21 am on 19 August 2014

National Rugby League boss Dave Smith says the Pacific Islands will continue play an important and expanding role in the future growth of the sport.

An NRL delegation, including Smith, Sydney Roosters star Sonny Bill Williams and Australia coach Tim Sheens travelled to Samoa on Monday as part of the launch of the league's Pacific Strategy, which aims to boost the sport's popularity and forge closer ties with the region.

The group visited local schools, met with the Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and also held talks with business groups.

Dave Smith says the trip is a way of giving back and showing their commitment to growing the game in the Pacific.

"Nearly 40 percent of our players are from Pacific Island heritage, and that increase everyday, so it's a significant development pathway for us but equally I think important because as a game we do so much for our communities, our different cultures, and this is a real opportunity for Sonny Bill to come back and give something back to his heritage. He's a great player but I think he's been thrilled just mixing with the kids and I think at an international level with the Four Nations this year, with the World Cup in 2017, the Pacific Engagement Strategy really will mean that the Pacific Islands teams they're going to be strong coming into the 2017 competitions".

Former Fiji Bati international Jarryd Hayne will make a similar trip to Fiji later in the year and Dave Smith says the NRL will also announce details of a trip to Tonga shortly.

NRL Chief Executive Dave Smith

NRL Chief Executive Dave Smith Photo: PHOTOSPORT