Vanuatu's rugby league captain, James Wood, has thrown his support behind the Pacifique Treize bid to enter Australia's Intrust Super Cup, saying it would boost the sport in Melanesia.
The 35-year-old played 242 games and scored 107 tries while leading the Tweed Heads Seagulls in the Intrust Super Cup, (ISC).
He represented Vanuatu as a player and an active committee member and said he was excited by the possibility of having a team based in New Caledonia.
"For people like me, people from the Pacific, whether it be a Melanesian country or Polynesian country...to potentially have a team based in Noumea that has strong ties with Vanuatu is really exciting."
"When you look at what the Papua New Guinea team have done in the Queensland competition over the last six years and the flair and vibe they bring, I think this team would add a bit more of that," he said.
Wood said the Vanuatu Rugby League had worked hard to base players in Queensland to develop their skills, but visa restrictions, along with cultural differences complicated the process.
He said he believed the inclusion of a new Pacific team would relieve some of those restrictions and lift the development of players in the region.
"Our difficulties have been around visa restrictions coming from places in the Pacific and then trying to come to Queensland or places in New South Wales with the visa restrictions here and trying to work, keep people housed and fed and stuff like that, it's been quite difficult [and] this definitely cuts all that red tape,"
"Having a team like this would provide an opportunity for players to compete at the second highest level possible while maintaining a very similar lifestyle living in Noumea," Wood said.
"Travelling from one Pacific country to another would make it a lot easier culturally for the boys," he added.
The veteran said once people understood the calibre and level of the ISC competition, players and fans would flood the stands.
"Something that is lost on a lot of the people that they're not even aware of in the Pacific is the calibre and the level of the competition - it's the second-tier competition in the southern hemisphere," he said.
"I just think that once people have gotten onto that idea and understand what it is that they're going to be able to have as part of their own, I think it would probably just kick-start rugby league in some of these places that are not as well reached by rugby league."
Wood said the development of the game in the Pacific would go through the roof.
"It's important to remember in a lot of these places where we're looking at, rugby league's not the main sport like it is in PNG. Rugby league is PNG's national sport and they're fanatical about it wherever you go," he said.
"League is probably more of a new-comer to a lot of these places and just the exposure of the game and to that high level of competition will get people excited."
The group behind the bid aimed to join the competition in 2023. Wood said there would be challenges to establish a team in that time, but he was confident organisers could make it happen.
"It's not going to be any easy feat, but speaking from my experience with Vanuatu Rugby League and the success we've had in our short history... I think it could work and it could work really well."
"Knowing what I know about the people involved, if anyone can do it I believe they can do it."
Over the coming weeks the Vanuatu Rugby League Board and the Pacifique Treize bid will look to enter into a formal partnership to solidify development pathways for young ni-Vanuatu players.
Wood said he was looking forward to the development of the bid and was excited about the prospect of having more rugby league fans on the island.
"I can imagine it will come with a lot of bells and whistles, a bit like the circus coming to town, except it's going to be a full-blown professional competition and so if this is successful and we can play two games a year in Vanuatu, it would be fantastic."