By SENIORL ANZU
LAE City and Morobe celebrated victory early this month following the premiership win by the Lae Snax Tigers in the annual National Rugby League challenge in Port Moresby.
The Lae franchise brought home the 2016 Digicel Cup after defeating the Agmark Gurias 14-8 before a near-packed crowd at the Sir John Guise Stadium in Port Moresby on Saturday September 3. There was no wasting time as celebrations began right at the sound of the final hooter and carried on into the weekend at the national capital. Lae came to a standstill when the team returned there on Monday 5 September and together with their supporters and franchise owners, the team convoyed in vehicles around town to the chants of “Tigers, Tigers, Tigers!”
More celebrations followed on Saturday September 10 when a club victory lunch was hosted at the Lae Biscuit Company Factory- makers of Snax biscuits- yard along Speedway at Kamkumung.
The premiership success largely emanated from a culture of discipline and commitment instilled in the team, after falling shot in the finals play-off in the past two seasons.
Team Manager Tim Rodgers said the club culture was a key factor in their success.
“We rewarded hard work, commitment and discipline this year,” Rodgers said during the victory lunch, which coincided with player presentations.
“Our philosophy is work hard for each other in private and be rewarded publicly.”
Coach, Stanley Tepend, added that discipline was a core aspect of the young club to live and play by, both on and off the field.
The source of the team’s discipline also came from God with meetings with a local pastor every Saturday evening.
“Whether for home or away games, we had to have devotions so that the players are spiritually guided, besides their physical training. That was important to us,” Tepend said.
All their efforts paid off with the Lae side crowned the champions this season.
On the back of the win, a massive K100, 000 sponsorship package for the coming season (2017) was committed by Morobe Governor, Kelly Naru, during the victory lunch.
Franchise owner and Tigers Chairman, Adrian Chow, was overwhelmed with the level of discipline, skill and consistency displayed by the club. Chow spoke highly of the respectful community support and the boys’ commitment in delivering a positive result for the province.
Governor Naru congratulated the Tigers for being the 2016 champions in the domestic Digicel Cup. He said Lae City and Morobe were double winners on this year’s sporting front – both in rugby league through the Tigers and soccer through the Lae City Dwellers.
Tigers founder, Ian Chow, could not hold back their intention to keep the cup in Morobe in 2017 and beyond.
“After two years of claiming the minor premiership title, 2016 was the one that we really wanted,” Tepend said.
The icing did go on the cake this year. The Tigers went into the grand final as underdogs against the defending champions – Gurias.
Tepend said this year’s competition was tougher than the ones in the previous two seasons because the game format was reversed to the former whereby clubs were allowed to play all other teams in the competition.
Tepend, who also coached the Digicel All Stars (2014) and PMs XIII (2015), and assisted Kumuls Coach, Michael Marum, when they defeated the Fiji Batis in Sydney in May this year, said Lae Snax Tigers did very well this year and lead the competition all the way to the grand final.
At the inception of the PNG Inter-city league in 1990, Morobe was represented by the then Lae Bombers. The competition was known as the SP Intercity Cup in which the Bombers won the premiership twice, in1995 and 2002.
The Tigers concept evolved in 2010 and the club first entered the PNG semi-professional competition in 2011. Coincidently, it was that year that PNG’s telecom giant Digicel took over the competition as the major sponsor; making it the PNGNRL Digicel Cup.
Ian, a member of the Chow family (who are the owners of the Lae Biscuit Company), was the principle founder of the Tigers. The club’s pioneer season had former Kumul (PNG representative player), Steven Malum, as the head coach with a management team headed by Justus Rapula.
Tepend, who is also a former Kumul, took over the rein in 2013.
The first team carried forward the bulk of the Bombers players but most have moved on in the last six years leaving only two original players. Sydney Fred and Robert Vuai are still in the team with Vuai playing at fullback in the grand final.
Having a good mix of players with experience and youth was important and Snax Tigers have been a breeding ground of talents for representative footy, in spite of its short history.
“We have produced 12 Hunters, four Kumuls, 12 PMs XIII players and two Australian NRL contracted players namely Wellington Albert to the Penrith Panthers and recently Justin Olam to the Melbourne Storms,” Team Manager Tim Rodgers said.
UK based players – Jason Tali and Mark Mexico – are others who passed through the Tigers process as well.
And during the season this year, the Hunters scouted Butler Morris from the Tigers squad. Prop forward Junior Rop has been in the Hunters training since mid-season.
Tepend said the club has lost key players to the Hunters each year but came up with different strategies to improve their form and maintain consistency.
“So huge credit must go to the people that work behind the scenes,” Tepend said.
For the PMs XIII this year, the champion club contributed six players – the highest number from a single local club. They are Pasu Awene, Anderson Benford, Mafu Kales, Noel Joel, Junior Rop, and David Loko.
Tepend has been recalled to assist Marum in the PMs XIII which is set for tomorrow (September 24) at the National Football Stadium in the capital.
The victory lunch ( a feast more like) and presentations was a great way to wrap up the season.
Main stakeholders attended. Among the guests were Governor Naru and Lae Met Supt Superintendent Anthony Wagambi Jr. Supporters and families of players were also invited.
Awards were presented to players in various categories;
Most Valuable Player (Franchise Owner Award) – David Loko
Most Consistent (Goodman Fielder Award) – Mafu Kales
Best Back (Hawkeye Security Award) – Pasu Awene
Best Forward (Wenet Construction Award) – Bernard Lama
Best Clubman (Seeto Kui Award) – Supa Kokete
Rookie of the Year (Nuigini Oil Company Award) – Billy Paul
Most Improved (Mapai Transport Award) – John Andy
During the season, Tigers only lost twice. The first was in an away match against Gulf Isapea when they played with 12 men for 30 minutes.
The Tigers have one more box to tick before the next season. The champions will be on the road to Fiji early next year for the Melanesian Cup Championship against the champion of Fiji’s Vodafone Cup in a return match. The annual (rotational) fixture between the two countries was initiated last year with Gurias being inaugural winners after defeating Fiji’s Sabeto Roosters in Port Moresby.
The Fiji NRL will host this season’s challenge in Suva.
By SENIORL ANZU