Wellington - A New Zealand government study released on Wednesday backs a Pacific island team in the Super Rugby competition, believing it could provide a gateway to the potentially lucrative United States market.
An edited version of the study suggests a game could be played each year in Honolulu, San Francisco, Los Angeles or Salt Lake City, which all have large Pacific populations.
A Pacific island franchise missed the cut when Super Rugby last expanded in 2016, with new teams from Japan, Argentina and South Africa preferred.
But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade report said Super Rugby's governing body, SANZAAR, appears likely to support a Pacific team from 2021 as they look to move into North America.
A Pacific team competing in New Zealand's domestic competition would be a primary feeder to a Super Rugby side which could draw on New Zealand and Australian-based Pacific players, as well as Europe-based players wanting to return home.
Financial information was redacted from the released sections of the report, but it did show a desire to tap into the more than 250,000 expats from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga living in the United States.
The report said the team should be based in the Pacific islands to ensure stable home support, but "it will be essential that at least one home game is sold to a non-Pacific host, such as Auckland, West Coast of USA, (or) Asia.
"It is our view that the team should be based in the Pacific islands. Playing the majority of home games in Auckland or Sydney would not have the same impact or attraction as playing home games in Suva, Apia or Nuku'alofa," the report said, referring to the capitals of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.
Although details about the proposed ownership of a Pacific team were not released, the report said the three main rugby-playing island nations should be shareholders under an arrangement that ensured money went back to the respective unions to pay staff and players.
The Samoa Rugby Union claimed late last year it was bankrupt and could not pay players. When players threatened to strike before the 2015 World Cup, lock Dan Leo said it was because money was "not being best spent or even properly accounted for".
Tongan players are currently up in arms, claiming they were not paid while competing in the recent Pacific Nations Cup tournament.
Pacific rugby players association spokesman Hale T-Pole said it was "sad to see".
"They haven't been paid for the time away from home and in camp," T-Pole said Wednesday.
"Some guys are still working and they gotta leave their job, and some guys are in Tonga who don't have a job still trying to play rugby and they don't get anything."