League paying a price

Editorial, Normal

The National, Monday July 16th, 2012

DAVID Mead’s desire to play for Queensland has caused the talented Gold Coast Titans winger to turn his back on a definite 2013 World Cup spot in the Kumuls squad.
Although his intentions were mentioned last year in the Australian press, it was only in the July 4 edition of the Rugby League Week that fans in Papua New Guinea were aware that he had finally made a firm stand on the issue.
Firstly, let’s be very clear.
The 23-year-old Mead is the only PNG-born National Rugby League player that looks likely to match the heights reached by another home-grown hero, Marcus Bai.
The Titans may not win this year’s premiership but the Tubusereia native is very much on course to being one of PNG’s better sporting exports.
So, why then has Mead chosen to forgo representing the nation of his birth in the sport he loves and more, 12 months before a World Cup?
Unfortunately, one of the reasons he proffered was that rugby league in PNG has been mismanaged and badly administered for a long time, too long in fact, and that has made playing for PNG, while an honour, an exercise in futility.
In short, for a player of Mead’s calibre and talent playing for a team that is backed by an administration that is going nowhere is an issue.
PNG’s 2008 World Cup lock Neville Costigan was given the choice by the Australian Rugby League in 2010 of playing for PNG and thus becoming ineligible for the Maroons or continuing to make himself available for an international team that has not beaten any top shelf opposition since 1988.
In reality, the choice was not hard.
Do not forget that playing sport professionally is foremost about performance and the return.
A State of Origin representative plays at the highest level imaginable in this sport.
Any footballer would give an arm and a leg to play in this arena.
They are also well remunerated for their efforts with players currently
earning A$20,000 per match.
It’s hard to turn your back on that, especially if you are talented enough to be playing at that level.
But Mead’s defection, if we can call it that, should not be greeted with anger by Kumul loyalists.
Dismay and disappointment may be adequate responses but any reaction that calls Mead’s change in allegiance an underhanded act is simply missing the point and not doing justice to a player who has served PNG so well whenever called upon.
His reasons are understandable and we should respect him for that.
Some rugby league fans in PNG may think we have been hard done by to lose such a talent at this stage.
But if anyone is to blame, it should be the PNG Rugby Football League.
Thankfully, the country has other sporting pursuits it can focus on in the coming months and years to take its attention away from the stunted PNGRFL.
The PNG Games in November, the Olympics this month and the 2015 Pacific Games in Port Moresby will give sports fans something to cheer about.
Perhaps not at the same intensity as watching Kumuls side take on the Kangaroos but close enough is good enough.
A dose of honesty is in order here because league being the number one
sport unites Papua New Guineans like no other code can.
The fervour and élan that is mustered among our hordes of supporters is spoken and written about
in the league world.
We should not see Mead’s disaffiliation as major setback but something the league should learn from and realise that if it does not get its house in order, it could lose a host of elite players.
James Segeyaro and Ray Thompson are two names that very well opt for the security and prestige playing in a green and gold jersey offers them.
It may well be that this will fire league administrators in PNG to work doubly hard to ensure rugby league is developed with an eye to producing another Mead, Costigan et al.
But, in order to do this, they must first get away from their petty bickering and inept attempts at governing a sport that actually has exclusive national and Australian government funding.