By Brian Lowe, Date: 24/11/17 (Photo Credit NRLPhotos)
Papua New Guinea is without a doubt one of the success stories of this Rugby League World Cup.
The Kumuls won their Pool and went as far as the quarterfinals where they eventually succumbed to England, who inflicted the first defeat on the PNG team that had become one of the crowd favorites.
The Oil Search National Football stadium in Port Moresby was sold out for each of the Kumuls’ three home games and the parochial fans were not disappointed by their idols.
In the only country in the world where rugby league is the national sport, the Papua New Guinea national team lived up to all the pre-World Cup hype.
They were untroubled by both Wales and the USA, while a plucky Irish side gave them a real run for their money before they eventually prevailed over the Wolfhounds.
PNG finished the Pool stages with some impressive statistics that were the envy of many other teams.
The Kumuls were fourth on the list of points scored racking up a total of 134, they crossed for the fourth highest number of tries at 25, and were fifth best on conversions with 17.
Backrower and goalkicker Rhyse Martin was the second highest points scorer through the preliminary rounds of the tournament with 40 points, while also being the equal second best goalkicker booting 16 conversions.
The Papua New Guinea team also racked up a healthy points differential of +116.
Clearly, scoring points wasn’t a problem for the Kumuls who delighted crowds with some fast, open and attacking football.
There were a number of players who stood out for PNG and none more so than their skipper David Mead. The Brisbane Broncos winger wore the #1 jersey for his country and was at his best with ball in hand running plays from fullback.
He was knocked out, literally, early in the quarterfinal against the English and PNG certainly missed his contributions in that match.
Super League and former NRL player James Segeyaro always caused problems for the opposition, particularly from dummy half, and his constant probing runs often led to timely offloads that resulted in some of those 25 tries.
Vice-captain Ase Boas was another guy who was more than a handful for opposing defenders, while rookie five-eighth Lachlan Lam followed in his famous dad Adrian’s footsteps by turning on some scintillating offense much to the delight of the appreciative Moresby crowds.
Kurt Baptiste, Luke Page, Gary Lo and Justin Olam were also big contributors.
When you consider that PNG went home early from the 2013 RLWC after losing to France, Samoa and New Zealand in the group stages, it was a marked improvement this time around.
Since then, Papua New Guinea has had a team in the Intrust Super Cup competition in Queensland and after consecutive top two finishes, this season the PNG Hunters went on to win the championship.
A lot of the players from the Hunters were part of the Kumuls campaign and that experience provided a boost for the national team.
Based on their improvement, combined with a push for the introduction of an annual Pacific nations tournament, of which PNG would be a part, there is no doubting that the Kumuls will only get better as time goes on and that will send those league-mad fans in PNG crazy with excitement.
And that is a good thing for the international game.