By KEVIN PAMBA
“The rugby league world left me stranded. I had nowhere to go,” Ex-Kumul Siegfried Gande.
THOSE involved in rugby league in various ways know well the beautiful and ugly sides of our “national sport”.
For many local players, the rise to the top of the rugby league pecking order can be meteoric. And the fall can be sudden and dramatic, and even end in failure in life or tragedy.
A young man’s religious-like following of rugby league took a better part of him that he abandoned his blossoming primary teaching career for the so-called “greatest game of all”.
It was a decision that took Siegfried Gande from the obscurity of local club football in Ron Albert Oval in “Beautiful Madang” to the heights of rugby league that all players in Papua New Guinea aspire to – a Kumul spot.
Those familiar with rugby league in the tourist town in the early 2000s will recall a lanky youngster who ran out in the centre position for the North Raiders Club and stood out each weekend with his well-timed hits in defence, nifty footwork and perfect hands with the ball. Playing local footy in Madang and representing the Madang Fox side in the annual Northern Zone (now Confederation) Trials did not look promising for young Gande. Such was so for the youngster in a town that did not have a franchise club in the PNG National Rugby League-managed semi-professional competition now sponsored by Digicel. So he left his teaching career in Madang, packed his boots and headed up the highway for Goroka – the redoubtable capital of rugby league in the Highlands known for producing some of the finest players for the country for many years.
Gande’s move to Goroka quickly paid dividends. He was spotted by talent scouts of the Bintangor Lahanis franchise club participating in the national semi-professional competition. When Gande pulled on his first Lahanis jumper, it was like fish to water. He never looked back and didn’t let down his coach, trainers and fellow players and became a regular traversing the country playing for the “Pride of Eastern Highlands”.
His skills and work ethic as a Lahani was soon rewarded with national selectors picking him for national duties – as a Prime Minister’s 13 player and a series of Kumuls jumpers for different matches at home and overseas. While being a regular Digicel Cup and Kumuls player for a good part of the last 10 years, the battering the body received each season took its toll on Gande with a groin injury being the most severe.
The groin injury first sustained in a match against Australia left the former Lahanis, Gurias, Simbu Warriors and Isapeas’ hardman struggling to regain full fitness in the subsequent seasons. This culminated in his failing the medical tests for the World Cup tour of England in 2013. While trying to regain full fitness he played with the Gulf Isapeas in 2014 and that was the last straw. He aggravated the injury and this time it was for the worse. During 2014, Gande was out of the Isapeas squad hence the income he relied on as a semi-professional footballer in Port Moresby ceased and he was unemployed and out on the streets. Life without employment in the capital city can be tough nowadays and Gande began to fill the pinch of it.
And in his words “the rugby league world left me stranded”.
“I had nowhere to go. I left my teaching career some years ago to pursue my rugby league dream and there was nowhere else to go,” Gande recalled recently.
“For five months, I was literally down to nothing in the city,” said Gande.
“All the good friends and fans in rugby league were nowhere to be seen.”
“It was my good wife, Colleen (who is also a teacher) who stood by me and supported me when I was out of the game and its limelight, injured and unemployed,” Gande said.
He said without Colleen things probably would have gone for the worse for him in the city.
Then one day that year (2014), Gande recalls seeing a newspaper advertisement from Divine Word University inviting applications for the Bachelor of Management study at the Port Moresby campus via the flexible mode.
He immediately took an interest in it and decided he should apply. One of his good brothers, Ben Dangma urged him to go ahead and apply as he would support him with the tuition fees. Gande recalls, Ben Dangma was like an angel from heaven to him. He took on the responsibility to pay the fees when Gande’s application to study the management degree program was successful.
With the help of his wife and Dangma, he enrolled for his studies in 2015. In the weeks that followed there were other family members and relatives who chipped in to assist.
There were others like his mother and good brothers Richard Kerenga, Doctor Dala, Billy Yalu and Bata Brown Dangma who gave him the support to do his study. Along the way Gande landed a part-time job at the Department of Health, which he still holds today.
The part-time job gave that added cushion on top of the support he received from his family and close relatives.
Earlier this year, a letter came in the mailbox. It was from DWU. The letter congratulated the former Kumul second rower for successfully completing his Bachelor of Management degree and stated that he was listed for graduation at the Madang campus on Sunday 12th March, 2017.
“When I saw the letter, I punched the air and cried in jubilation,” said Gande.
“I was so down and out when I was deserted by the game I loved so much and dedicated much of my young life to.”
“The letter from DWU uplifted my spirits and I can now move on with life after rugby league,” said Gande after his graduation.
“Without the support and encouragement of the few people I mentioned, I probably would not be here to receive this degree from Divine Word University. Thank you, Divine Word,” said the ex-Kumul.
After graduation, Gande visited family members in Riwo village outside Madang and then travelled to Goroka and onwards to Simbu visiting relatives and friends before returning to Port Moresby.
Gande is still working part-time work and weighing out his options.
For other youngsters interested in rugby league, the ex-Kumul second-rower has this message: “balance your priorities with education and football. Do not give too much of your time to football and fall behind in your education and fall in the same trap as some of us did.”
By KEVIN PAMBA