By MARTIN LIRI
WATCHING the crowd reaction as the SP PNG Hunters claimed the Intrust Super Cup in a tense final at the Suncorp Stadium are moments that one can treasure for a long time.
Everybody’s got their own story to tell about that historic achievement by the Hunters.
As a journalist who has followed many sporting teams enter the competition venue to compete against the best in the world and in the region over three decades now, there have been more moments of disappointment than periods of elation where we share in the glory of success.
As a member of the travelling party of the NCDC Port Moresby Vipers, who were involved in the Kokomo 9s rugby league tournament, our weekend had not started in ideal fashion.
We had spent the whole of Thursday and Friday at Jackson Airport trying to make the flight to Brisbane.
All our travel documents were in order and we had boarded the flight without any hassles — the problem was the aircraft was facing continuous technical issues.
In the end, after taxing out to the runway on four occasions and the flight aborted each time due to safety concerns, we were eventually en-route to Brisbane at 10pm on Friday night.
Another Qantas aircraft had to be flown up from Australia specifically to airlift the passengers on the full capacity 767 flight to Brisbane.
Our team arrived at 3am on Saturday, checked into their hotel for some rushed rest before the young Vipers took the field at 9am for their opening match.
The mental toughness the players showed to end up making the semifinal, just missing a grand final berth by a close 24-18 scoreline was a courageous effort by the team.
Ironically, this Vipers team was coached by Paul Komboi, a player who had been involved in the Port Moresby Vipers team in the 1990s when they competed in the Queensland statewide competition.
I was a sports journalist who had accompanied the Vipers team to one of their games in Brisbane. My job gave me access to information so while the players did their best on the football field, administration which is something I am now qualified to talk about since I have clocked numerous hours in that area, left a lot to be desired.
There were two companies that looked after the Vipers franchise’s operations.
The Port Moresby-based entity operated under the name Vipers PNG.The Australian operations were supposedly under the care of Vipers Australia.
After two years the venture failed due to administrative mismanagement and some of the unpaid bills to service providers came back to haunt another attempt to enter another PNG franchise in the now Intrust Super Cup.
The PNG bid to enter the ISC became necessary when the NRL bid to enter a PNG team was unsuccessful.
The current PNG Rugby Football League board, under the chairmanship of Sandis Tsaka, drove the ISC bid with the national government diverting its funding resources to the new initiative and supported by a pool of high profile companies led by SP Brewery as sponsors, a five-year licence for a PNG franchise was granted which saw the birth of the Hunters.
How they convinced the Queensland Rugby League for a successful acquisition of a new licence are boardroom discussions which only those who were directly involved in the negotiations are privy to.
After the Hunters’ victory on Sunday, I bumped into the pioneer chief executive officer Brad Tassell and as a proud Papua New Guinean I had to thank him for the foundation he laid, which the current Hunters management incorporated into their own.
We know each other well as colleagues because I was the media manager of the PNGRFL from 2014-2015 and the Hunters media responsibilities fell under my purview.
After Sunday’s 12-10 historic win over the Sunshine Coast Falcons, soaking the atmosphere from the entire day, I can put together various different chapters from various angles as we journalists would like call our stories.
It could be from the comment from an obvious Falcons supporter, who I overhead say behind me when the Sunshine Coast had scored two quick tries: “I tell you it is going to be a whitewash”.
My instincts as a journalist to be impartial stopped me from going in to bat for our Hunters when the comment was floated.
But that did not matter in the end when the television replays showed that Willie Minoga’s try was going to be given the all clear to tie the decider at 10-10 and captain Ase Boas knocked over the conversion to seal the match.
Like many millions of Papua New Guineans, who watched the game on TV, for those privileged few of thousand Hunters fans at Suncorp Stadium, we couldn’t help but shed tears of joy to savour the historic moment.
Today the Hunters again travel down on an Air Niugini flight, a sponsor that has to be commended for its continuous support, ensuring the team gets first class service to all its away games to Sydney for the Intrust Interstate Championshipship fixture against the NSW Intrust Cup champions Penrith Panthers.
We follow the Panthers as an NRL team — but on this occasion our national pride will take precedence — we will put our hopes on the PNG Hunters to complete the double of winning the ISC premiership and the interstate championship.
- Martin Liri is a veteran sports journalist who has worked for the the country’s major newspapers and on radio. He is a former media manager for the Hunters.