PAPUA New Guinea national soccer champions Hekari United are placed in an all-Melanesian pool for the upcoming O-League soccer challenge starting this Saturday.
Hekari United will face the glamour team Tafea FC of Vanuatu, who have had strong links with Port Moresby University Inter FC in recent years, with two of their stars – Noel Vari and Russell Nari – having had stints with the club.
Fiji champions Lautoka FC and their Solomon Islands counterparts Marist FC are also placed in pool B.
When United meet Tafea in Port Vila, Vanuatu on Saturday, Fiji champions Lautoka will tackle Marist FC at Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara.
Hekari United’s team manageress Vonnie Kapi Natto told The National recently that preparation had been good, with their entire international signings intact and training well with their local colleagues.
Despite some slight hassles over the acquirement of visas for their Solomon Islands and Fiji players, Mrs Kapi Natto said this problem was now behind them and they were concentrating on their preparations before their departure on Friday.
Three Fijian soccer stars – Tuimasi Manuda, Pita Bolatoga and Lorima Dau – have rejoined the camp along with Solomon Islanders Benjamin Mela and Joachim Waroi.
These players will bolster Hekari’s campaign in the O-League alongside the experience and depth of local stars David and Cyril Muta, Erickson Komeng, Samuel Kini, Abraham Enoch, Willie Waluka, Michael Foster and Koriak Upaiga.
Mrs Kapi Natto said the road was tough, especially against their Melanesians counterparts, who were also focused on winning.
“We have learned a lot from last year’s participation and hopefully are a litter wiser to the pressures of soccer at this level.
“The coaching team and the players have adjusted themselves to cope with these pressures and hopefully this will be evident when we embark on our O-League campaign this weekend,” Mrs Kapi Natto said.
Hekari, who suffered some internal strife with their coaching team last year, have ridden out the storm and are sticking with incumbent coach Jerry Allan, who has set his focus on leading the team through the qualifying O-League matches and make it through to the World Club championships.
Last year, Hekari invited Solomon Islands coaching guru Patrick Minity and his number one goalkeeper Fred Hale to assist the team against their countrymen from Koloale FC but Hekari failed in their endeavour and the duo were subsequently sacked by the club.
Mrs Kapi Natto appealed to all Papua New Guineans to get behind Hekari and support their rep team to win their matches against their Melanesian brothers.
Her husband, franchise owner John Kapi Natto, said they had invited technical staff Tommy Mana to assist coach Jerry Allan, while the club had retained the services of trainer Sailosi Druma.
New Zealand clubs Waitekere FC and Auckland City FC, Tahiti’s AS Manu Ura and New Caledonia’s AS Magente are slotted in pool A.
The winners advance to the play-offs for the right to qualify for the World Club championships in December.