By Richard Cowley, Date: 29/11/13
I have to say when it comes to passion for the sport of rugby league it’s hard to go past Papua New Guinea. They are fanatical when it comes to the greatest game. This passion has been amplified by PNG’s early exit from the Rugby League World Cup. It would be an understatement to say the locals are restless. The two people who are copping it from all sides are rugby league legends Mal Meninga and Adrian Lam.
Before we get all worked up about PNG’s World Cup failure let’s go back to before the World Cup. In fact lets go all the way back to the beginning of 2013.
It was well documented that the PNGRL had been a basket case for many years. Infighting within the organisation had pretty much set the code back in Papua New Guinea. For rugby league to move forward hard changes had to be made.
To gain much needed financial assistance from Australia the PNGRL had to hand over control of the game to an interim Chief Executive Officer. Since this hand-over rugby league has been getting back on track in PNG.
With the extra financial support the game has returned to Papua New Guinea schools giving all kids access to their national sporting code. We have seen more transparency in regards to where the money is being allocated. The code is finally being run in a professional manner.
With the changes at the top in place Adrian Lam put his hand up to return and coach the Kumuls all the way through to the World Cup. For the first time PNG players had a high performance unit with Queensland legend Mal Meninga heading up the unit as high performance director.
All the pieces of the puzzle were in place for the Kumuls to do really well in the world cup….or were they?
Fast forward to October / November 2013.
The Kumuls stumbled against France in their opening game 8 – 9 after Aiton missed a kick that could have won the Kumuls their opening match. Papua New Guinea were then outclassed by Samoa 38 – 4 in their second match of the tournament. Their last game was always going to end in tears against the current world champions. New Zealand had a training run to come out 56 – 10 victors leaving the Kumuls team and coaching staff to pick up the pieces and prepare for the backlash that awaited them back home.
Adrian Lam and Mal Meninga are legends of rugby league but they are not miracle makers. All the systems in the world would not condition PNG players to the day in day out grind of a professional rugby league player. It is just not possible. The Kumuls had a majority of their team come from the local Digicel Cup competition with a sprinkling of players from Super League, NRL and other competitions around the world.
So as ex coaches and administrators continue to blast poor old Mal and Adrian they really need to take a reality check. Papua New Guinea were always going to struggle against teams stacked with professional players. Even blind Freddy could see that.
While the critics in PNG have been laying the boot in, the PNG administration have been getting on with business and have announced that a PNG team will be playing in the 2014 Intrust Super Cup competition. This is massive news for the development of PNG at domestic and international level. Now the best players from PNG will have a chance to play in a competition that some argue is ranked 3rd behind the NRL and Super League.
This is exactly the next step that PNG had to take. With more media exposure the best PNG players could be picked up by talent scouts and end up in NRL all Super League over the next few years. This will in turn give them a much stronger squad come the 2017 RLWC. This is exactly what needs to happen if the Kumuls are ever to become a serious threat at international level.
The ultimate goal is to have a PNG team play in the NRL. But having a team take part in the 2014 Intrust Super Cup competition is the next best thing. Now with a team in the Intrust Super Cup the Kumuls can seriously start bridging the gap between the big three. So over to your Mal and Adrian, in the coming years you will have a more rounded talent pool to choose from. If anyone can assist Papua New Guinea reach it’s potential at international level it’s you guys!