By PARKER TAMBUA
HELA Wigmen kick off their Digicel Cup title defence against Goroka Lahanis in Port Moresby on Sunday (1pm kick-off) as the reigning champions aim for back-to-back premierships.
Wigmen chairman Andy Hetra said last week that they were upbeat about a strong campaign despite the Kroton-sponsored side losing seven of their premiership winners to the SP Hunters.
Leading their title defence will be premiership-winning skipper Valentine Culligan and vice-captain Stanford Talita, who both opted out of the Hunters squad to commit to their studies.
They will be backed by experienced campaigners Patrick Morea, Tommy Moide and Daniel Pai, an offseason recruit from Waghi Tumbe.
Meanwhile, rake Charlie Buka has backed his Goroka Lahanis as genuine title contenders in their upcoming Digicel Cup campaign.
He said the five-time Bintangor-sponsored champions, who finished in the bottom half of the ladder last season, were aiming for an upset win at the Oil Search National Football Stadium.
“We believe we have restored a lot of confidence in the team over the past three months of pre-season training,” Buka said of the 2018 champions.
“We have the same feeling as that of the 2018 pre-season.
“Our recruits have gelled well with the senior players like Jacob Gibbs, Ake Paluse, Joseph Karara, Absalom Lingas and myself.
“Former captain and current head coach Gonzella Urakusie has a great connection with all the players.
“Our team spirit and commitment in training are high and we are focused.”
Buka said his men would not take the Wigmen lightly despite the premiers losing Samuel Yegip, Judah Rimbu, Norman Brown, Jeffery Robert, Solomon Pokari, Solo Wane and Gilmo Paul to coach Matthew Church’s Hunters.
“Definitely, we want to make a statement and start strongly,” he said.
“It will be great to do it against the champions.
“The Wigmen are always a tough side regardless of whether they’re down on troops and experienced players, but we’re confident. I am expecting our young players to step up.”
By PARKER TAMBUA