LAST year, the SP Hunters’ Queensland Intrust Super Cup campaign was scrapped because of the Coronavirus.
Earlier this year, the South Pacific Brewery-sponsored team left their families at home and relocated to Australia to keep their rugby league dreams alive.
The Hunters did manage to complete their campaign, albeit with two regular season games cancelled and a five-week pause in July when South-East Queensland went into lockdown.
After winning three of their first four matches, the Hunters’ form faded to finish in 10th place with six wins and 11 losses.
The squad had an early taste of adversity when their departure from Port Moresby was delayed on three occasions.
They finally arrived in February and ended up spending 31 days in isolation across two countries before the season had even started.
Coach Matthew Church felt it was important to select players he thought would be able to adapt and settle in new surroundings.
“We couldn’t just force it on them and make sure they come to Queensland and relocate,” he said.
“Some of the selection in and around who I picked in our squad was relying on how I felt they would handle life in Australia. “It was something I was really mindful of, making sure that we weren’t bringing someone too far out of their depth because we didn’t know how hard or easy it would be to get someone home.”
Veteran Ase Boas debuted for the Hunters in 2015 and is used to making regular trips between Papua new Guinea and Brisbane.
The playmaker said relocating to Australia for an entire season was a big sacrifice.
“A lot of them are new players coming through the Kumuls system, so it’s a new experience being away from family for so long,” Boas said.
“The results didn’t come our way, but it’s something that will help us leading into next year if the Coronavirus (Covid-19) continues.”
The Hunters did make good use of their time off the field, however, by taking part in a series of educational opportunities to prepare for life beyond their playing days.
“All of our players have gone through a level-one coaching qualification, a referee qualification and a sports training qualification,” Church said.
“We’ve managed to organise some short-course Tafe courses around business and trade.
“Those things just haven’t been possible back in PNG, so the ability to do that, know what that looks like to be able to extend on that next year if we’re back here is a huge advantage for us.”
The Hunters ended their season with back-to-back wins against Central Queensland Capras and Tweed Seagulls last month, before the players boarded a plane back to Port Moresby.
Church said the last nine months was a huge learning experience.
“When we first came here, someone said to me that it was a bit like flying to the moon for the first time,” he said.
“I was like well, no, actually it’s a bit like sewing a spacesuit, building a rocket, designing the fuel system and then learning how to fly it to get there.”
The Hunters squads have since returned home, but with Covid-19 still causing major disruptions to the global sporting landscape, they have indicated they will be back to do it all again next season.
This means PNG residents will not watch their team in action on home soil for the third-straight season. – RNZ