The National, Tuesday October 29th, 2013
A MILLION groans must have been released at about 3.30am yesterday around Papua New Guinea as the Kumuls came agonisingly close to winning their first match of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
The game against France, at Craven Park, in Hull, was an arm wrestle from the start as both sides fought to gain ascendency in difficult conditions.
A strong breeze for most of the match and a damp pitch was always going to mean points would be at a premium and for Kumuls fullback David Mead, his 78th minute penalty kick from no more than 30-metres out and in front of the uprights was one that would have presumably got PNG into the quarter-finals. Instead the Kumuls lost by the slimmest of margins – 9-8.
As it turned out the pressure proved too much for the Gold Coast winger.
Mead fluffed the relatively simple conversion to the horror of fans in the stands and more so those in PNG who had stayed up to watch the game.
We are sure Mead is gutted by what happened. But in saying that he did miss the two previous conversions granted they were from close to or on the sideline and in blustery conditions. Many fans may feel angered by his mistake and blame him for the loss but to put the loss of a winnable match squarely on the shoulders of one player does not achieve anything.
We hope sincerely that those passionate Kumul fans do not remember Mead for his failing but for the wonderfully gifted player he is and for the fact that just like the 16 other members of the team that night he tried his best.
What we can do however is to ask Kumuls team management why we did not have a recognised goal kicker in the squad.
Surely that is a necessary component of any side that wants to win matches.
Unfortunately in spite of Mead’s other great attributes he is not a goal kicker, a fill-in maybe but not someone who has consistently kicked for his NRL side or any other team as far as we know.
To be honest rugby league in PNG at any level does not boast any talented goal kickers. Men who accumulate points and have a strike rate of better than 70%.
Goal kicking is almost an afterthought here.
Is this the end of our World Cup hopes of making the next stage?
It certainly looks that way as New Zealand, who accounted for Samoa 42-24, had to wade through some rough seas to victory. PNG faces Samoa on Tuesday morning our time and they have to win this match to have any hope making the final eight, which is what coach Adrian Lam and high performance director Mal Meninga have said is the goal.
But that now seems a difficult proposition given that Samoa and New Zealand are clearly a level above the French.
But there were some positives from this match.
Halfback Ase Boas was perhaps the best Kumul on the field and along with Josiah Abavu and Nene McDonald provided fans with something to cheer about.
The Kumuls offensive threat was blunted by how shallow the backline stood on attack.
That gave the French easy access to ball carriers and made their defensive job that much easier.
The area that must be of concern was the Kumuls’ lack of penetration in the forwards.
They simply could not break or bend the French line or make ground once they hit it.
The ploy of having backs playing in the forwards has a pitfall when it comes to making metres up the middle.
That quarter-final spot may seem an even longer way off, but that is no excuse for the Kumuls to drop the ball, on the contrary, it is time to for them to pick up their game.