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By Troy Whittaker – NRL.com

With rugby league being akin to a religion in Papua New Guinea, the NRL is using the sport to promote education, respect and health while also developing football skills.

And the NRL League Bilong Laif (translated to League for Life) school program, funded by the Australian Government, has expanded after the opening of the NRL Lae office in Morobe Province on June 22.

The code now has offices set up in all regions throughout PNG.

“Our program engages boys and girls of all abilities, teaching them key messages on respectful behaviour, the importance of going to school and living a healthy active lifestyle through our game,” NRL PNG general manager Cathy Neap said at the opening ceremony.

“Apart from managing LBL, we oversee Mini and Modified rugby league, coaching and referee updates in consultation with PNGRFL, and Voice Against Violence – an initiative aimed at tackling gender-based violence and its different forms in PNG.”

Australian High Commissioner to PNG Jon Philp officiated the NRL Lae office launch, which was attended by other dignitaries.

“We can see how rugby league plays an important role in bringing together communities,” High Commissioner Philp said.

“We’ve supported LBL together with NRL and National Department of Education for seven years now.

“It’s a really important program for us and I’m really pleased that we are able to bring that to the school children in Lae as well.

“We know that football is great, it’s good for health, education, it’s terrific for gender equality, I’m so pleased to see so many young girls participating in this program.”

Students in attendance were given NRL team-branded masks and finished the event by participating in COVID-safe rugby league drills and games. Local schools received footballs and program packs.

“The LBL program is targeted at you, the young, when your minds are ready to absorb quality education while at the same time providing the foundation for the development of rugby here in Papua New Guinea,” PNGNRL Chairman Adrian Chow said.