The National, Friday, May 6, 2011
THE Digicel Cup kicks off on Sunday around the country and, for new franchises Hela Wigmen and Gulf Isapeas, it is time to show all what they have in store.
The Wigmen play Kongo Coffee Chimbu Warriors in Kundiawa’s Dickson Oval while Isapeas face NCD rivals Stop N Shop Port Moresby Vipers at Lloyd Robson Oval.
Unlike the Isapeas, the Hela franchise have several high profile players to shore up this year’s campaign.
Names like Nixon Kolo, Jessie Joe Parker, Michael Mark and Larsen Marabe – all current Kumuls – will be expected to put the Wigmen on the front foot against Warriors.
On the other hand, the Isapeas are an unknown quantity with only one “big” name on their ledger in former Kumul centre Gimapau Keimelo.
Both teams take on opponents who have kept a low profile in the build up to the cup’s opening round matches.
The Vipers made last year’s playoffs and showed they have the ability to play attractive football.
Their only significant loss is five-eighth Parker, however, the return of dynamic three-quarter Kevin Frank from the Gurias gives the Vipers attack another dimension.
The capital city franchise have a reliable forward pack led by captain and backrowers Steven John and the rugged Zachary Simbai and tackling machine Sebastian Pandia and will be looking to overwhelm the Isapeas pack.
Although the Isapeas have a very experienced coaching staff, their starting 17 are relatively new to this level of football and are expected to struggle with the pace early on.
The match is there for the Vipers to win – or lose.
Meanwhile in Kundiawa, Sigfred Gande’s boys are sure to give the Wigmen a typically bruising welcome to intercity rugby league having named a strong side with the likes of veteran Paulus Mondo, Nathan Hoyato, Bal Bako and Otto Sam in the pack complemented by try-scoring centres in Garnet Auwo and Sonny Daing.
The match is a toss up between a side which thrives on home support against a type yet to find their footing in the competition.
In other matches, defending intercity premiers Bintangor Goroka Lahanis host a depleted Agmark Gurias in Goroka.
The Gurias are a shadow of their former premiership winning side of 2009 when the starting 13 was a who’s who of the Kumuls.
Coach Michael Marum has chosen to put his faith in local East New Britain players and Sunday will see if his team can hold their own against a clinical Lahanis.
More responsibility will rest on the shoulders of props Kot Kerowa and Sam Ponda while Jeffrey Vineval takes on a senior role in the backline.
For the Lahanis, their team is practicaly their premiership winning group from last year with forward leaders Tony Dai and Nicko Ubile expected to lay the foundation for exciting backs Adex Wera, Spiro Makaive and Chris Hogi.
Toyota Enga Mioks have a similar situation to the Gurias when the host WGS Mt Hagen Eagles in Wabag.
Decimated by departures the Engans only retained three players from last year’s squad with the most notable Kumul backrower David Loko while Emmanuel Saar and Jonah Mackay were fringe players last year.
Another interesting selection is former Mendi Muruks winger Sova Milfred who will start at halfback.
The inexperienced Mioks will still be a formidable challenge for Eagles, however, with a better calibre of players at their disposal the Mt Hagen franchise should prove a class above despite the crowd factor.
In the other match, Muruks and Lae Snax Tigers face off in Lae.