By PHILIP KEPSON
RUGBY league made a long awaited return to Mendi town’s famous Momei Oval on Saturday thanks to the Coca-Cola Ipatas Cup and Engan Governor Peter Ipatas.
The occasion was significant for local rugby league fans who had not witnessed matches being played in the town area for the last 13 years.
Rugby league fans of several thousand from Mendi and the province’s other districts in Nipa, Ialibu, Magarima and Tari flocked to Momei Oval for the latest round of the Ipatas Cup to see teams compete for places in the competition’s semi-finals to be played in Lae and Wabag in the coming weeks.
Governor Ipatas, who is widely known in the Highlands region as the “action governor,” took time before the opening match walking around town and greeting the locals before entering the field to a officially start the games.
Several members of the public shook hands with Ipatas and thanked him for bringing rugby league back to Mendi through the Coca-Cola Ipatas Cup after it being in the doldrums for well over a decade.
Ipatas said it was important for leaders to promote sports as it united people and gave youth goals to strive for. “If we do not engage the youths in any form of activity, they will resort to causing problems. Therefore, I think, sport is one way to divert their attention from negative behaviour,” he said.
Meanwhile the draw of matches saw Tari Sharks and Lorma Tarangau qualify for the semi-finals of the Ipatas Cup after winning their respective pools.
But the matches were not without a tinge of controversy as pool one top finisher SBS Mendi Bulldogs, despite winning all their games, were disqualified from the competition after fielding two players who had previously played in Lae and Ramu-based teams. Lorma Tarangau were then declared winners of the pool.
According to competition rules a player is not allowed to play for two teams. If this happens, the entire team is penalised.
Tarangau who finished third on the day, were slotted in for the finals.
Lepa said the knock outs will be played in Lae and Wabag this weekend while the venue for the grand final would be announced following semi-finals this week.
Lepa said Mendi, the Southern Highlands provincial capital was initially voted to host one of the semi-finals but that was changed to Wabag because of accommodation and spectator-related problems.
“We have changed the venue for the semi-finals from Mendi to Wabag because all the hotels and guest houses in Mendi are booked out by companies involved in the LNG project. We also have considered spectator violence,” he said.
Lepa said those teams that were scheduled to play the semi-finals in Lae include Morobe Tambuaks, Kamkumung Crushers, Unitech Spartans, Goroka Royals, Goroka Titans, Gumine Pythons and Kerowagi Royals while Lorma Tarangau, Tari Sharks, Mt Hagen Settlers, Raiders, Rakamanda Bullets, Wabag Kinjon, Enga United and CC Wests were expected to lock horns against each other in Wabag.
Lepa said CC West was the only team from Eastern Highlands that would play in Wabag.
He said the round-robin format would be used in the finals where the winner would survive to enter the grand final.
Lepa said a total of 64 teams had participated in the competition this year where the major sponsors, Coca-Cola Amatil PNG Ltd and Enga Governor Peter Ipatas had put up a total of K50,000 in cash prizes.