Papua New Guinea: A thriving rugby league nation
By Billy Painter and Alastair Finn
Last Updated: 03/11/17 8:56am
Perhaps the most eye-catching match from the opening weekend of the Rugby League World Cup was Papua New Guinea's emphatic 50-6 win over Wales. Not just the dominant display on the field, but the passion and excitement shown off it from the PNG public. A real heart-warming sight to behold.
PNG captain David Mead was the star performer as the Kumuls notched up 10 tries in front of their adoring home support - a landmark victory for a team that has grown and improved in stature over the last decade.
Saturday marked 10 years to the day that they lost 50-10 to Wales in Bridgend and if you look further back to 1991, they suffered a humiliating 68-0 defeat to the Dragons in Swansea. So Saturday's scoreline was quite a transformation - a result befitting of a memorable and historic occasion.
Anybody watching the dominant display in Port Moresby on Saturday will be intrigued to see how far this side can advance in the 2017 World Cup. Their opening day display certainly demonstrated that they have the capabilities, quality and desire to trouble other nations - especially on their home patch in the group stages.
The Kumuls' World Cup squad boasts 10 players from the PNG Hunters - the side crowned Queensland Super Cup winners for 2017. A fantastic feat for a team that has only been a member of Australia's second-tier competition for the past three seasons.
The Hunters' achievement has led to some Australian pundits, namely former Australian international Matthew Johns, saying that the Hunters must be the next team to join the NRL if they want to expand the competition.
Their success and progress over the past three years has surely had a positive impact on the national side - a side who hadn't won a World Cup game since 2000 and failed to register a win in the 2010 Four Nations.
With more PNG players playing a higher standard of domestic football - whether in the northern or southern hemisphere - the standard of their player pool will only continue to grow and flourish. The formation of the PNG Hunters certainly aids this.
Add into the equation the likes of established NRL players James Segeyaro of Cronulla, centre Nene MacDonald of St. George Illawarra and Brisbane's dazzling three-quarter David Mead - scorer of PNG's first ever World Cup hat-trick on Saturday.
Surprisingly only two members of the Kumuls' World Cup squad currently ply their trade in the northern hemisphere - Catalans Dragons hooker Paul Aiton and Castleford-bound Garry Lo.
Winger Lo has had two highly impressive seasons for Championship side Sheffield Eagles, scoring 49 tries in 46 appearances for the club - topping the league's try-scoring chart for 2017 with 37 tries in 30 games. At 23-years old you would expect his best years are still to come - Castleford Tigers supporters will be looking forward to seeing what he can add to an already free-scoring side.
Players such as Willie Minoga, Stanton and Wellington Albert must also be sparking Super League and NRL interest - they've demonstrated when playing for the Hunters and are now proving on the international stage that they can add real value to a side and that they will give their utmost to get the right result.
It's not just the players themselves that grab the attention - Papa New Guinea and Hunters coach Michael Marum opting to play four hookers at the same time on Saturday was a rather unusual ploy - but free-flowing, attacking rugby was generated off the back - more than justifying his tactical strategy.
Papua New Guinea remains the only country in the world to have rugby league as its national sport and that passion was broadcast around the world on Saturday for all to see. It proves that the fans have as much hunger and desire for the sport as the players themselves.
The components are all there and with a successful World Cup campaign in 2017 - who knows how much further this pocket of rugby league in the southern hemisphere can grow and flourish? Papua New Guinea certainly shouldn't be ignored - they should be given as much support as possible to help mould the future of international rugby league.
The Kumuls face Ireland on Saturday, again in Port Moresby. The Irish will be buoyant after their 36-12 victory over Italy in their opening game - a result that is seen as the shock of the competition so far.
The Irish are packed full of Super League quality and it will be fascinating to see if they can succeed where Wales failed last week in front of a fanatical and vociferous home crowd.
The Kumuls will then face USA in their inter-group match. If they can defeat the Hawks and topple the Wolfhounds on Saturday they will top their group and face the runners-up of Group A - which you would expect would be England.
What a mouth-watering contest that would be in Melbourne on November 19 - and as this World Cup is already showing - anything can happen!