By MICHAEL PHILIP
THE dream to play for Papua New Guinea in any sport is the motivating factor that drives a young man from Vunamurmur, Kokopo district, East New Britain.
William Tirang, 26, was at Raluana Primary School in Raluana local level government (LLG) when his passion for sports began – he was something of an all-rounder excelling at a number of codes and pursuits.
“Growing up, I loved playing sports and the only opportunity for me to play (organised) sports was when I was at school,” he said.
“At school, I took part in all the games, rugby touch, athletics and even fun games too like touch peggie and relays. I didn’t give up playing these games because I have a dream to play at the national level like Kumuls Marcus Bai, Neville Costigan and Adrian Lam. These people are Papua New Guineans and I told myself that I am a Papua New Guinean too and must try my best to be like them.”
Incidentally, all the Kumuls Tirang notes as his inspiration were all born on the island of New Britain.
In 2012, Tirang completed eight grade at Raluana primary school and was selected to continue grade nine at Malaguna Technical Secondary School in Rabaul in 2013. His selection to continue ninth grade saw him decide to devote equal time to studies as his passion in sports.
“I got an opportunity to build my interest in sports when I got selected to do grade nine at Maltech. That’s another level of education so I knew there would also be another level of sports when I got in there but I knew I had to balance sport and studies.”
While in the ninth grade, Tirang joined the Vikings rugby union sevens team and focused on that format of the game. Playing a complex game such as rugby union allowed him to hone his skills and tactical awareness, particularly on offence.
It was not long before Tirang, who was still growing into his wiry frame, was one to watch earning a reputation as a flyer and try-scoring machine for the Vikings. The Vikings were crowned Rabaul 7s champions in 2014 thanks in no small part to Tirang and his burgeoning form.
His success in rugby ensured he dedicated his time to it and more success was to follow.
“My first year in high school was awesome because I fell in love with the sport of rugby union sevens.”
Tirang credited his speed to his work on the track as a youngster who won primary school athletics meets excelling in the blue ribbon event of the 100m.
He said naturally the transition from sprinter to sevens player was easy.
His performances in 2014 took the notice of provincial selectors who promptly included him in ENB Kaias squad.
“I personally didn’t have any plans about what was next for me in rugby union but I was telling myself that I would take any opportun
Former sevens flier William Tirang says he is keen
to test himself in rugby league. – Gettypic
ity that came. I was surprised to get called up to the Kaias squad after we (Vikings) won the Rabaul sevens but I just accepted it and joined the team and travelled to Port Moresby.”
He would take part in his first major tournament, the 2015 National Provincial Sevens.
“My first trip to Port Moresby was a memorable one and that really gave me a boost to perform to where I was forced to work hard to earn my spot in the team.”
Unfortunately, there was one area in Tirang’s life that suffered as his rugby star was rising – his education.
He admitted his interest in studies began to fade as he devoted more time to staying fit and learning the skills of sevens.
“I love the sport and I couldn’t just let go of the opportunity and that’s the whole reason why I decide to forgo studies and commit to my training and make the most of the opportunity given by the Kaias.”
And thankfully that somewhat contentious call paid off with Tirang one of the standouts of the national tournament catching the eye of the national coach and selectors which resulted the 181cm, 85kg flier being drafted into the Pukpuks sevens camp that year.
“My dream to play for a Papua New Guinea national team came true in 2015 when I was picked to play for the Pukpuks. I told myself this is it, I have to cement my position,” Tirang said.
As a 20-year-old in 2015 he travelled overseas for the first time proudly flying the PNG flag and marvelling at the fact that he was living a childhood dream.
Tirang would go on to represent his country for the next seven years (2015 to 2021).
Late last year, Tirang decided to follow in the footsteps of other former Pukpuks sevens teammates – Butler Morris and Gairo Kapana – and try his hand at rugby league, signing with the Port Moresby Vipers for the 2022 Digicel Cup season.
Morris, who switched to rugby league in 2018 and made the PNG Hunters the following year, had moderate success playing mostly on the wing despite being a loose forward in union.
Kapana, while impressing on the world sevens stage, particularly at the Wellington 7s in 2018, was drafted into the Hunters 2019 squad but did not quite live up to the promise he showed in union’s seven-man format.
Tirang has the advantage of seeing how his fellow sevens compatriots have gone and will have considered his move to the 13-man code but the exuberance and confidence of an athlete who wants to challenge himself is ever present.
“It’s a dream come true for me (switching to rugby league) as I was planning to do it because for rugby union most of our international games were cancelled due to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and for myself I don’t want to sit around doing nothing, I want to play.”
Tirang said he played at the recent Sports Tok Sevens in Port Moresby in November and helped his team claim the cup and then was recruited by the Funeral Home Laumas, a rugby league team, to play in the Southern Super League, an offseason competition that features teams from all over the National Capital District and Central province.
The Vunamurmur native is keen to test himself against the best in the Digicel Cup and given his talent, skills and track record as a sevens star could surprise more than a few in Papua New Guinea’s national game.