Hunters, league power on

Editorial, Normal

The National,Tuesday August 18th, 2015

 RUGBY league is the Papua New Guinea’s leading sport hands down.

If one needed proof of the sport’s domination of the country’s sporting landscape he or she only needed to head of to the Sir John Guise Stadium in Port Moresby last Sunday to witness the revelry as the SP Hunters hosted the Wynnum Manly Seagulls in a Queensland Cup round 23 fixture – won by the home side 36-13.

The venue holds 15,000 but given the city’s burgeoning population that is estimated to be at or near the 850,000 mark, the Hunters could have easily filled out a 40,000 capacity stadium. 

It is unlikely any other sport can reach that kind of attendance figure in this country.

In this country one cannot underestimate the pulling power of rugby league.

The presence of a Penrith Panthers delegation over the weekend led by the noted rugby league commentator and administrator Phil “Gus” Gould typifies the direction that the sport is taking.

Gould’s mission is to foster a partnership with the PNG Rugby Football League for the National Rugby League club to develop a mutual relationship with the country and its rugby league community.

PNGRFL chairman Sandis Tsaka pointed out before Gould’s arrival that the national body was interested in using the relationship with the Sydney-based club to build on their programmes and to enhance their capacity in areas like player development pathways, junior development, club administration, professional approaches to management and the range of services that can be utilised.

It is interesting to note that Gould and his team were up here on their own expense. 

They want to be here. 

They see an opportunity in this country that is worth investing in. 

How many other professional sports clubs have done this?

The State invested millions of tax payers’ money on a successful enterprise that was the XV Pacific Games and with that event over the focus is now back on the leading code and the team that is the flag bearer for the most popular code in the nation.

With the continued success of the Hunters, league is well and truly on an upward trajectory and hopefully that success will beget more success. 

The signs, particularly in the weekly grind of the Q-Cup are there. 

The PNGRFL and the national government as well as key sponsors have combined to create a platform for the country’s best talent to shine. And shine they have with the Michael Marum-coached side finals bound in only their second year in the Q-Cup.

You cannot argue with the statistics for this season: 17 wins, three losses and a draw.

Fans love winners and right now the Hunters are winning. And what’s more they are not fluking it. This team has the talent and more importantly the class to go all the way in 2015. A Q-Cup premiership is certainly well within the realms of possibility given the fact that the Hunters have now accounted for all of the top six teams including two wins against the competition favourites, the Townsville Blackhawks. 

PNG rugby league is ever so slowly inching closer to its dream of having a team in the NRL. 

With the fans’, sponsors’ and state’s backing what was once considered a long term proposition might not be as far off in the horizon as first thought. The gap is getting smaller.

The only frontier left to conquer would be the international stage. For far too long PNG has had to be content with being labelled the side that has potential but is yet to reach it. That is about to change.

 At home the rugby league scene is as vibrant as ever with the Digicel Cup having completed its first week of finals.

All 11 franchises have supporter basis that number in the thousands and if one needs proof that the sport is thriving, he or she only has to look at the number of teams that are entered into the various local leagues and competitions. 

Interest is at all time high levels.

Domestically the only area of concern is the violence that sometimes takes place at matches. 

This needs to be eradicated completely and the players and fans need to accept that the sport is first and foremost a contest between the skill, fitness and determination of two sets of teams and the fans are only there to enjoy the spectacle.