THE Australia media have treated the PNG Kumuls as a mere formality in the Kangaroos’ Four Nations schedule and Sunday’s match a foregone conclusion.
Faced with a dearth of in-depth information on the Kumuls, stories out of some major Sydney and Brisbane papers have painted the PNG team, more than half of whom are from the country’s domestic competition, as an inexperienced, over-awed, amateur and lowly paid ensemble.
Occupations like a tyre worker, meat worker, teacher, storeman and farmer does not make for an overly impressive resume for PNG’s best compared to the other Four Nations sides made up of professionals.
Drawn in sharp contrast to the Kangaroos, tagged as a A$10 million team, and expected roll over the Kumuls estimated to be worth a fraction of that (A$670,000) amount, it is clear the Papua New Guineans are destined to play the tournaments underdogs .
Some sports website stories claimed that several of the Kumuls had never travelled in an airplane before adding further to the “out of their depth” impression but thankfully the Australian media and indeed Kangaroos coach and several senior players are wary of an unknown but potentially dangerous PNG side.
They know that the Kumuls, written off pre-tournament outsiders at odds of 125-1 to win the tourney let alone the first game, will be using all the friendly derision as fuel to stoke their fires of passion and pride.
PNGRFL interim committee member Gary Juffa, who is with the Kumuls, said the players had largely ignored the Australian press because for them just simply being in the Four Nations and having the opportunity to play the best was a reward in itself.
Speaking to Australian media he said the Kumuls were not flustered about the peripheral issues because they came from a different culture.
“What you have to remember is a lot of these players own their land, land that is up to 10 and 20 hectares, and land they don’t pay tax on,” Juffa, PNG’s Customs Commissioner said.
“They can do whatever they want to that land, and a lot of them live off it.”
There is extra incentive when the semi-professional Kumuls cross that white line and lock horns with Australia this weekend.
According to coach Stanley Gene, the Four Nations will prove a giant success if three or four players can secure a contract with a club in Australia and start a new life.
“During the World Cup in 2008, a lot of people were whingeing about why we were in the (best) group,” Gene said.
“But I told the boys there would be plenty of media focus on this group and what a great way for the guys to put themselves in the shop window and hopefully get scouted.
“There were three or four boys in the 2008 Cup whose lives have changed. Some of them have brought family over to Australia. Hopefully, we’ll have three or four more after this tournament.”
Gene also paid tribute to the semi-professional competition in PNG which he credited with helping develop the game in recent years.
Skipper Paul Aiton, who played this season at Cronulla, has been swept up by the joy of his lesser-name teammates.
“They’re living the dream. For most of them, it’s their first trip abroad and they’re playing their idols and heroes,”Aiton sad.
“But I think they’ll handle it fine. As soon as that whistle blows they’ll block everything out and just play footy.
“They’ll rip in, for sure, they won’t leave anything in the tank. They don’t get a chance like this very often.
“We’ve read it all in the papers how Australia are going to thrash us, but that’s what you guys think.
We’ve got nothing to lose.”