What a year in sport!

Main Stories, Sports

The National – Friday, December 24, 2010

THE sporting year that is about to end has delivered a mixed bag; some highs, several lows and many performances in between but overall 2010 has given the vast majority of faithful the hope for a brighter 2011.
Two codes and one event left an indelible mark on public consciousness: rugby league, soccer or, as the rest of the world calls it, football, and the 19th Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, made the headlines.
Firstly, rugby league, the supposed leading sport in the country, was ripped on the field, in its administration and in the media with  our beloved Kumuls mauled at the Four Nations last October.
But the damage was already done long before the side left our shores for the showcase event.
The PNG Rugby Football League was made to look shambolic with an internal leadership struggle and the ensuing dog fight played out in the media giving fans, sponsors and players cause to feel disappointed, uncomfortable and confused in equal measures.
The positive for rugby league was the resurgence of the Goroka Lahanis in the bemobile Cup.
The Eastern Highlanders  showed everyone what could be accomplished with the right attitude by defeating former three-time inter-city champions Mendi Muruks in the grand final, after not being given a serious chance for the cup in 2010.
The other rugby league-related story for the year was the PNG NRL bid.
At times maligned but always determined to see its programmes and plans through the Bid team, led by iron woman Bev Broughton, has walked a tenuous path trying to shore up support in country and overseas but most of all belief in their goal of producing the country’s first NRL team in the not too distant future.
A noble and popular cause, however, only time will tell if these efforts can bear the desired fruit.
Secondly, football grabbed the headlines in the beginning of 2010 when PNG’s O-League representatives Hekari United took everyone in the Pacific by surprise winning the regional title.
It was simply a watershed performance from the nation’s leading football team at National Soccer League (NSL) and now in Oceania.
PNG soccer gained respect, attention and praise from the international football community.
The battle to win the hearts and minds of PNG sports fans has tipped decidedly in the favour of soccer and will continue to do so as long as Hekari holds its position as the number one football side in the country.
No other sport can claim to have won an important regional competition defeating, convincingly, a better class of opposition. And one must remember Hekari are just a club, not a country.
Topping off their stellar season  Hekari participated on the wolrd stage at the FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and despite losing their first match 3-0 to home side Al Wahda, they were not entirely out of their depth. A good sign for club owner John Kapi Natto and officials to build on in 2011.
The only criticism of Hekari – and ultimately Kapi Natto – and their methods were the over reliance on imported talent.
Only three members of the starting Hekari side which played in world club challenge were Papua New Guinean.
Perhaps if given more opportunity another local player can flourish at the O-League level.
Thirdly, the individual performance of 2010 which is worth mentioning was swimmer Ryan Pini’s silver medal winning swim in the 100m butterfly at the Delhi Games last October.
Although a lot of Papua New Guineans took it for granted, that we had a lock on the event and that Pini would come through for his country – this was no easy task for our champion.
It is a testament to Pini’s mental toughness more than anything winning at a world class event and having to do it with the weight of expectation on his shoulders.
Pini is now heading into the twilight of his career as a world class performer but he has achieved so much and shown other PNG athletes how it can be done.
Hopefully another young athlete will take this example to heart and carve out his or her own destiny on the international stage.