Eye of the Tiger on PNG

Normal, Sports

The National – Wednesday, February 9, 2011

AS RICHMOND coach Damien Hardwick perused his playing list through the week, deciding who would line-up against the Indigenous All Stars, a match belatedly cancelled because of poor weather, there was one player he really wanted to unveil.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, that player is only about to start year 10 of schooling and is only at the club, let alone in the country, for a week.
Gideon Simon and Nathan Malbak, a pair of 16-year-olds from Papua New Guinea now on the club’s international rookie list, were invited to train with the Tigers last week.
So impressive had Simon been that Hardwick felt he was ready to mix it with some of the league’s best.
The Tigers, like Brisbane and Essendon, have tapped into the fertile PNG market, one which has already spawned three-time Lions premiership fullback Mal Michael.
Under the shrewd eye of Tigers’ recruiting manager Francis Jackson and recruiting officer Matt Clarke, the club believes it may have discovered two future senior players.
“Francis Jackson and I had a bit of a chat when I started here two years ago,” Clarke said.
“We had Ray Hall, the former Richmond player, who was actually in PNG on a youth and ambassador programme. I rang Ray and he said: ‘I am about to coach a PNG U16 team that will go and play in the Queensland championships’. So I said: ‘I am coming over’.
“I flew over, helped him put the team together. I saw Simon  for the first time in a training session and he just stood out to me as a natural talent.
“I followed him to Brisbane and watched him play, then talked about the International scholarship programme which these two boys are on now.
“Simon reminded me very much of David Rodan. He is going to be that sort of size. He is quick and kicks the ball well.
“I saw Nathan at the talent camp in 2009 they have in PNG. I saw him play in a game, his reading of the play, his marking at half-back and half-forward, was really impressive.’’
Simon, from the PNG highlands, and Malbak, from the coast, have much in common.
They live in modest village conditions, their fathers are policemen and mothers attend to the family, while their passion and thirst for football has ensured they have a great work ethic.
Naturally, they have immersed themselves in AFL life this week.
“It has been a very good week. A lot of training and we have learnt a lot things. The coaches have been good,’’ Simon said.
The Tigers will remain in contact with the pair when they head home this week and  resume schooling at the De La Salle High School, Bomana.
“The more they learn about how Damien wants to play the game, even at this early stage, the better for them,’’ Clarke said.
Next year, the Tigers could have the pair attending school at De La Salle in Melbourne on an exchange programme and possibly play with Coburg in the VFL.
“All the players have been very open to us,’’ Malbak, who was given a spare pair of boots owned by Ben Cousins to wear at training, said.
‘’We feel it’s our home and we want to stay.’’