PNG has had several of its sportsmen making a name for themselves overseas and be considered among their code’s best competitors.
Marcus Bai in rugby league, Stanley Nandex in kickboxing and Mal Michael in Australian Rules spring to mind but 22-year-old rugby union scrumhalf and current Queensland Reds captain Will Genia could set a new benchmark for Papua New Guineans making it big on the international sporting scene.
One of Australia’s greatest halfbacks, George Gregan, has hailed incumbent Wallabies No.9 Genia as a superstar with more skills than him.
Such has been the meteoric rise of the young man who comes from Abau in the Central province who did not start playing rugby until senior highschool.
Genia at a nuggety 82kg, burst onto the international scene last year and after just 11 Tests, Gregan is touting him as a future Wallaby leader.
Pound for pound Genia is the strongest Australian rugby player, benching 172kg.
“He’s got a lot more skills than me,” Gregan said of Genia.
“He’s bigger, stronger and he can kick a lot further. I’m a dinosaur compared to him. He’s got a good head on his shoulders.
“I like the way he plays. He has time and space to do things, which is a sign of a real quality player.
“He’s only 22 and has heaps of improvement in him. That’s what’s exciting.” They are big wraps from the Zambian-born Bledisloe Cup-winning captain who also won a World Cup in 1999, played 139 Tests for the green and gold, and 136 games for the Brumbies, which included two Super 12 titles in 2001 and 2004.
You would trust his judgement as far as halfbacks go.
Gregan will long be remembered for his gritty determination which was highlighted by his infamous Bledisloe Cup-saving tackle on Jeff Wilson in 1994.
He turns 37 in April and will continue to play professional rugby for Suntory in Japan, under Eddie Jones, until mid-February next year.
Gregan was full of praise of Genia, whose potential was also noted by Reds coach Ewen McKenzie who made him captain this year.
“I think that leadership has really helped him go from strength to strength,” Gregan said.
“He is a very good player who understands the game. He’s very skilful and makes good decisions under pressure. He takes care of his forwards, has a very good pass and knows how to change his game when the opportunity presents itself.”
Some have gone as far to say Genia is the next Gregan.
“He’s is his own man, and he’s doing a great job. He also picked up the game late which shows how much talent he has,” he said.
PNG Pukpuks coach Billy Rapilla added further accolades on Genia saying he was effectively the world’s best scrumhalf on current form.
“He’s the best halfback right now and you can’t argue with Gregan’s opinion.
“Will is playing some very special rugby and his profile is rocketing off because rugby union is a truly global sport played in over a 100 countries,” Rapilla said.
On whether Genia’s accomplishments merit being rated above Bai’s and Michael’s Rapilla was circumspect.
“You really can’t compare Genia’s achievements to Marcus or Mal. You’re not comparing apples to apples, these are different sports,” he said.
“Leading sports icons in PNG have excelled in sports that have had good to great following like rugby league but there’s no denying that Genia could be headed for greatness in rugby union.”