NATIONAL rugby league (NRL) clubs often go to great lengths to recruit players, but based on the extraordinary time and effort put in by the Wests Tigers to sign Edene Gebbie, there must be something special about the Papua New Guinean.
Gebbie will leave quarantine in Brisbane to join Michael Maguire’s men next week after an off-season negotiation that started five months ago.
The 25-year-old was known in NRL circles after playing for the SP Hunters and Wynnum-Manly in the Queensland Cup. South Sydney fans will also recall the outside back running out for the Rabbitohs at last year’s Perth Nines.
Gebbie returned to PNG during the Covid-19 lockdown but the Tigers stayed interested in giving him a shot at the NRL. They thought he would be in town for the start of pre-season training. He signed a A$1,000-a-week (K2,750) train-and-trial deal and was expected to live in Tigers’ accommodation just down the road from the club’s Concord headquarters.
Normally, Tigers officials would have flown to PNG to bring Gebbie back but Covid-19, and the fact he lives in a remote mountain village near the Kokoda Track, delayed the process.
First, there was a wait for police checks. Then another delay with visa approvals.
Phone reception in Gebbie’s home village of Sogeri is also unreliable, meaning the Tigers could only communicate with him once a week when he caught a bus to an area with a better connection.
On one occasion, Gebbie travelled to Port Moresby to sign paperwork. By the time Tigers football manager Adam Hartigan realised he had failed to initial one page of his 55-page contract, Gebbie was halfway up the mountain and could not be contacted for a week.
Gebbie’s Brisbane-based contact, Rob Kawaipa, who has been in daily contact with Hartigan, said the 25-year-old’s profile at home ensured he was farewelled by a healthy crowd at the airport.
“We started discussions at the start of October, and had it not been for Covid-19 and quarantine, I would have flown over and brought him back,” Hartigan said.
“But we had to wait a while for his visa to be approved, then there were police checks, and just being able to contact him because he was in a village became difficult.
“Rob told me we had to wait for him to catch public transport into town so he had proper phone service.”
The Tigers have already recruited speedsters James Roberts and Daine Laurie. Maguire hopes another blistering back will boost their cause.
“I think he’s shown great form and the number of people and contacts we have in and around the Papua New Guinean space (say) that his potential is untapped,” Maguire said.
““He’s played a lot of fullback, he’s played on the wing, and he’s just quick.
“I spoke to him twice and the timing was always tricky because he was coming down from the mountains. I had actually stopped asking about him now because of the challenges we’ve had with Covid-19 and everything.
“But I’m looking forward to seeing him.”
NRL clubs had to have 28 players signed by Monday, with the Tigers bringing in South Sydney prop Tommy Amone to round out their squad. Two more players must be added by August.
Gebbie can be brought into the top grade earlier should there be an injury and he impresses in reserve grade.
The Tigers have an option in their favour for 2022.
Gebbie kept fit with the SP Hunters before they left for Queensland last weekend. – SMH