With further expansion of the NRL on the horizon, one of the Super League’s top stars Jack Welsby will surely become even more likely to make the move Down Under.
The England international is already a hot prospect following his displays in Super League and the World Club Challenge.
But with a Papua New Guinea team tipped to get the nod for 2026, the likes of Lachlan Lam and Edwin Ipape will become surefire contenders.
Professional Welsby impressing
Welsby’s swashbuckling performance for St Helens in their derby victory over Wigan will have undoubtedly been noticed by NRL suitors.
On contract with Saints until the end of 2025, they have a fight on their hands to stave off big-money offers from Down Under with team-mate Lewis Dodd also attracting interest.
That interest could turn heads and affect performance, but that certainly hasn’t been the case with Welsby.
Writing in his St Helens Star column: “Take a bow Jack Welsby, after an outstanding performance on Friday against arch rivals Wigan.
“Unsurprisingly, like any young player who explodes on the scene, there is always talk about NRL which can quite often distract the player and therefore his performance.
“However, Jack has declared his full commitment to Saints while in contract, and Friday certainly proved that focus.”
It is speculated that an NRL club may make a move to sign him from 2026 onwards, but then move to try and pay a fee to get him out of his deal in 2025.
An unnamed NRL CEO previously told the Daily Telegraph: “Welsby would make it out here. A lot of English backs don’t make the transition to the NRL but he would do it successfully.
“Welsby would be a great signing for a club with a fullback near the end of his career in two, three years’ time.”
Sydney Roosters are planning a big clear out at the end of this year, and have been tipped by Australian commentator Andrew Voss to make a big move for Welsby.
With Welsby already having won every honour as a Super League player, the lure of the NRL will surely be too much for St Helens to withstand, even with recent moves to increase the marquee ruling on the salary cap.
Sky Sports commentator Brian Carney said of Welsby recently: “The game has an obligation to turn him into a superstar. He can do no more on the field.”
Dodd’s contract situation, his expires at the end of 2024, means he’s a year ahead of Welsby in terms of NRL talks, and some fans have questioned whether it has distracted him from his on-field performance.
The half-back has previously been warned off penning a deal with Wests Tigers, and appointed an Australia-based agent to explore deals for beyond 2024 – though as with Welsby, any suitors may then try to pay a fee to get him out of his existing deal early.
Calls for bigger bans
Josh McGuire’s 12-match ban for unacceptable language should lead to lengthier bans for dangerous contact, according to Garry Schofield.
There has been some talk this season over whether bans should be related to the length of time the receiving player is ruled out through injury.
Writing in his League Express column, Schofield said: “What I would like the RFL to decide is that dangerous tackles that endanger players, can cause serious injuries and are potentially career-ending are also worth twelve-match suspensions.
“Whether it’s chicken-wing… cannonball… hip-drop… or any other kind of reckless and dangerous challenge, the punishment should fit the crime.
“Twelve-match suspensions would have a big impact when it comes to eliminating dangerous challenges.”
NRL aiming for 20 clubs
The NRL is aiming to be a 20-team competition by the time Australia hosts the 2032 Olympics in Brisbane.
After the success of the Dolphins integration in 2023, they are hoping to add an 18th team ahead of the 2026 season.
And a Papua New Guinea team is thought to be ‘top of the list’ according to ARLC boss Peter V’landys.
He told News Corp: “We want rugby league to be in the heart, souls and minds of people and that extends to PNG, which is top of the list at the moment for expansion.”
The PNG Hunters side has played in the Queensland Cup since 2014, and so could make the step up to the NRL.
Two of Super League’s best players in 2023 hail from Papua New Guinea, in Leigh duo Lachlan Lam and Edwin Ipape.