By JACK AMI
THE Papua New Guinea Rugby Football League experienced another successful year in 2016 highlighted by the Kumuls May Test win over Fiji as well as the confirmation of three 2017 World Cup fixtures in Port Moresby.
PNGRFL chairman Sandis Tsaka said all was successful with the domestic and international arena which had driven the code from strength to strength.
He said in the international programme, the PNG Hunters had another successful year by making the finals for the second year in a row.
Another successful hosting of a Prime Minister’s XIII event where PNG lost to a Test-strength Australian team.
“It was an important event to also showcase our juniors (Under-16) and women’s programme and use the occasion to promote ‘Stop Violence’ message,” Tsaka said.
“The PNG LNG Kumuls had a memorable 24-22 Pacific Test win over Fiji, a first away Test win in a longtime.”
However, after an improvement in PNG’s international ranking following the Test win, PNG dropped again as other countries that played more Tests towards the end of the year rose in the ranking. “We hope to improve rankings in 2017 with several Tests planned as well as the World Cup at end of the year.”
Tsaka said PNGRFL successfully rolled out coaching clinics, referee clinics and league administration support throughout PNG.
He said the challenges ahead were a lack of good facilities for major league centres like Lae, Mt Hagen, Goroka, Mendi, Kundiawa, Wabag and Madang, the ongoing issue of violence in the sport, improved governance and management of the sport at all levels and lack of genuine internationals due to costs.
“There are huge opportunities for growth with rugby league being used as a vehicle to drive social messages and using the sport as a development tool to provide opportunities for our youth both as athletes and officials and with improved facilities to build a better future for PNG rugby league to become self-sustaining.
“On behalf of the PNGRFL, our affiliates and the rugby league family throughout PNG I take this opportunity to thank all our sponsors, partners, fans and the many volunteers at all levels of the game for your support and partnership in 2016 which made this year a successful one for us all,” Tsaka said.
He said while the PNGRFL made progress there were difficulties and challenges that they faced.
On the development in the provinces, Tsaka said ptogress was tangible. “On the domestic calendar six provinces ran schoolboys successfully in 2016. These being ENBP, Morobe, Eastern Highlands, Jiwaka, Western Highlands and Enga.
All the 49 affiliated leagues throughout PNG successfully completed their seasons.
The four confederate championships were outstanding successes for all divisions: U16, U18, U20, senior women and men.
The national champs held in this year brought together more than 450 of the best players throughout the country and the national squads for each of these divisions was named.
The Digicel Cup completed another successful year despite instances of violence and one tragic incident in the finals where a fan, Joe Pidik, died as a result of spectator violence after the Gurias-Eagles preliminary final in Port Moresby.
The Lae Snax Tigers claimed their first title in 14 years.
PNGNRL Digicel Cup CEO Stanley Hondina said that the lifting of the Hagen Eagles’ suspension by an independent tribunal was still being reviewed by a legal firm.
Eagles chairman Bob Pakindi has welcomed the independent tribunal’s decision on reinstating the club and suspended players Junior Rau and Francis Ray.
The Agmark Gurias won the inaugural Melanesian Cup thrashing the Sabeto Roosters of Fiji 42-2 in the first quarter of the year.
“With better development work through coaching and refereeing updates and accreditations we have seen the progressive improvement in the quality of football in all our domestic programmes,” Tsaka said.
Kumuls and Hunters winger Justin Olam signed a two-year contract with the National Rugby League club the Melbourne Storm and is currently in pre-season training.
Kato Ottio finished the season as the top try-scorer (29 tries) for Canberra Raiders feeder club the Mounties in the NSW Cup and debuted for the Raiders at the Auckland Nines last February.
The end of the season also saw PNGRFL chief executive officer Bob Cutmore’s contract terminated due to non-performance with the PNGRFL board now looking to appoint a new CEO before the end of January.
By JACK AMI