Located as closely together as Newcastle and Sydney, it’s hard to imagine that their worlds could be so far apart. On one hand sits Australia, the world’s smallest continent and largest island, home to nearly 23 million people. Home of the NRL, the world’s biggest rugby league competition. On the other hand stands Papua New Guinea, possessing nowhere near the size, population or wealth of its nearby neighbour, but they’ve got passion in the bucket loads.
PNG is the only country on planet Earth where rugby league is the number one sport. While it doesn’t have the exposure that Australia has, it has so much heart and talent. So much so that it demanded its own team.
In late 2013, it was announced that PNG would have their own team entered into the Queensland Cup for the 2014 season, the Papua New Guinea Hunters. Consisting solely of players from the homeland, the Hunters squad was sprinkled with a host of players fresh off representing their country at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup. Despite a strong debut season, the club finished a singular point shy of making the finals.
Their rise continued the following year as they missed out on the minor premiership by a point, finishing just one game short of a maiden grand final appearance after a defeat to the Ipswich Jets. The Hunters didn’t let up last year, finishing in the top four, only to be eliminated in the first week of finals footy.
Then this year rolled around. After an impressive campaign, Papua New Guinea claimed the minor premiership, finishing on top of the ladder – by a singular point. They narrowly defeated the Redcliffe Dolphins in the second week of the finals 6-4 to push through into their maiden Grand Final.
The Sunshine Coast Falcons, a feeder club for the Melbourne Storm, were waiting for the Hunters on the other side. Taking place at the iconic Suncorp Stadium, the Falcons were dominant, holding a 10-6 lead with just ninety seconds left, when PNG struck.
Bench forward Willie Minoga celebrates after scoring the match-winning try
Bench forward Willie Minoga burst through to score off a grubber, and hand the passionate nation the first silverware in their history. Despite going down to Penrith 42-18 in the Intrust Super Championship, the Hunters have no doubt made their supporters proud after claiming their first premiership, but the work hasn’t finished yet for the PNG players.
Papua New Guinea are heavily favoured to take the top spot of their pool stage, coming up against weaker nations in the form of Ireland, USA and Wales. Their campaign kicks off in Port Moresby on October 28th, with the Hunter’s cohesion sure to give the Kumuls a massive boost.