By Ben Ryder
With the second round of Oceania Cup games scheduled in October/November 2019, Rugby League Planet takes an in-depth look at each competing island nation and what the game of Rugby League is doing for them, as well as their strengths, weaknesses, and the nations chances at winning their respective pools.
This week it’s Papua New Guinea
Recent History: PNG have had a mixed recent history, enjoying a successful RLWC campaign in 2017 (outscoring opposition teams in their pool 128-12 over the course of three games before falling to England in the quarter finals) followed up by a win over a full-strength Fiji in 2018, and a loss to an unconvincing Samoa earlier this year. In saying that, they have used their post-world cup matches to blood some debutants which will no doubt help PNG for the upcoming Oceania series.
Strengths: The Kumuls have an abundance of young talent at their disposal. The likes of Xavier Coates, Justin Olam, Kyle Laybutt and Lachlan Lam have all made their respective marks on the NRL in recent time. Add in the fact that some members of the squad haven’t even made their NRL debuts as they bide their time in the Intrust Super Cup (Moses Meninga, Junior Rau) and the prospect of the young, enthusiastic Kumals pulling off an upset or two in their pool matches seems like a real possibility.
Weaknesses: Looking over the statistics of their loss to Samoa, it is clear that the Kumuls lacked a bit of go forward and mongrel in defence to put their electric backs into good field position. Despite winning the penalty count 11-6, PNG finished the game with only 44% of territory and although they were able to take more runs than Samoa due to the mountain of possession (154 runs to Toa Samoa’s 143) they couldn’t gain as much ground, with the Samoa side running for 254 more meters. Add in the fact that they missed nearly 50 tackles, and you can be sure that coach Michael Marum will be looking for plenty of improvement in the team before the series kicks off.
Their X-Factor: After a huge breakout year in 2018, Rhyse Martin was tipped for big things with the Bulldogs and the NRL this year. Winning both the NSW Cup and State Championship finals as captain, playing for PNG against the PM’s XIII, and being named in the Emerging Maroons Squad were just a few highlights in what was a huge 2018 for Martin. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out between himself and the Bulldogs, being dropped from the team entirely for the first two rounds of the season before coming back into the squad via the bench. After just 11 games, he packed his bags and left for Leeds Rhinos and the Super League. There is no doubting his attacking prowess though, able to break the line at will as well as kick goals in remarkable fashion (at his peak Martin was kicking at a 94.74% success rate). What better way for Martin to show Bulldogs fans what they missed out on then by firing up against the best and helping PNG to victory? Definitely one to watch.
Rising Star: Justin Olam has been a powerful attacking weapon for the Melbourne Storm this year. Scoring 4 tries in 6 games at one point in the season, as well as running for over 100 meters three times, Olam has been a constant threat on Melbourne’s left edge with Addo-Carr and Munster. Although he has already played quite a few games for PNG (7 games, 5 tries) Olam will be an even better player in the Oceania Cup, having had some invaluable NRL experience in 2019 – especially in a team such as the Melbourne Storm and under a coach like Craig Bellamy.
What It Means To Them: Papua New Guinea love their Rugby League. Whether it be in the annual PM’s XIII game or cheering on their PNG Hunters in the Intrust Super Cup, the fans are always out to show their pride and support. They have been known to climb trees and rooftops to peer over the fence to watch games, so you can be rest assured that the Kumuls will be cheered home long after the full-time whistle blows. And if they do pull off an upset victory or two, don’t be surprised if there is a national parade in their honour!