By KEITH PUARIA
RUGBY union in Papua New Guinea this year has seen the end of an era and the opening of a new chapter.
Long term president and father figure of rugby union, Graham Osborne, has stepped aside, to make way for a new executive headed by Richard Sapias to take control of the running of the code.
Osborne will be long remembered for his work in the development and growth of rugby in PNG.
He will also be remembered for the guidance he provided for most rugby players in their lives outside of the playing field.
The success of rugby’s development against the world can also be attributed to the stringent work and contributions of outgoing treasurer Kerry McDonough and Naka Songake.
The new executive under Sapias walked took over the reigns in June and inherited an Oceania Cup Challenge, coinciding with the Rugby World Cup 2011 Qualifiers, and the huge task of seeing the PNG Sevens side re-entry on the international scene.
The task was made easier when Mineral Resources Development Company (MRDC) managing director Augustine Mano signed up God-fearing Fijian Sevens master Waisale Serevi, to turn it into reality.
At the junior level, the efforts of Supporters’ Club Rugby Union in Morobe (SCRUM-Lae), rugby development continued through support sponsors Coca-Cola Amatil, Airlines PNG and other corporate supporters, resulted in an Under 16 side travelling to Brisbane for the Queensland Junior Rugby Union State championships.
This SCRUM initiative also saw young referees grow their skills overseas.
Early in the year, there was another junior engagement that saw the PNG U19 Pukpuks travel to Kenya, where they qualified for the junior World Cup trophy in Moscow early next year.
For the seniors on the international scene, the PNG Pukpuks took the Oceania Cup, toppling Melanesian counterparts Vanuatu 86-12 and edging rivals Cook Islands 29-21 to qualify for the next stage against rugby heavyweights Manu Samoa.
A home and away series against the Samoa saw the Pukpuks out of the race for spots in France, a hiding of 115-7 loss in Apia, and a “fighting” loss 73-12 in Port Moresby.
The team’s performance caused movement on the International Rugby Board standings, eventually landing PNG three places up, from 52 to 49 on the world ladder.
Although, PNG’s campaign for a World Cup berth was again short-lived, the result left Rugby PNG, with an encouraging foundation for the next two years, and a growing tradition of the will to win.
Rugby Sevens campaign for re-entry onto the international tournaments saw a development side travel to and compete at the Pacific Mini Games in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.
With all players and coach Willie Rikis on their first assignments apart from two other players, a plate runners-up standing, and sixth place overall, held promise in the quality of the team.
A carry-over performance at the National MRDC Sevens in Port Moresby two weeks later confirmed the team’s promise, with nine from that team eventually making new coach Serevi’s final squad.
In a short time frame of two-and-a-half weeks, Serevi moulded the squad, with the immediate goal of re-entry into the IRB circuit.
As a build-up, the side travelled as the Menjals to the Gold Coast International Sevens for match preparations, and returned before leaving for the Pacific Sevens in Papeete, Tahiti.
The side received a standing ovation from that tournament, coming out at the end with a third placing and re-entry into the Wellington and Adelaide leg of the circuit.
Preparations are ongoing with the unofficial qualification to the Delhi Commonwealth Games, another task next year.
On the local scene, Monier Harlequins retained the Port Moresby rugby title after years out of the final season game, and Royals continued their dominance in the Lae competition.