The latest PNG star set to make his mark in the UK

James Gordon
Papua New Guinea Kumuls line-up PA including Keven Appo

Bradford new boy Keven Appo is the latest in an increasing line of Papua New Guinea players to make the move to the UK.

Appo, 24, had his visa approved earlier this week and goes in to contention to make his Bulls debut in the televised clash with York Knights on Monday.

His arrival means that nine of the Papua New Guinea World Cup squad will ply their trade on these shores in 2023.

The highest profile is of course Lachlan Lam, whose father Adrian was one of the trailblazers for the Kumuls earlier this century, playing at Leigh alongside Man of Steel favourite Edwin Ipape.

Their former Leigh team-mate Nene Macdonald has made the switch to Leeds to play alongside Kumuls captain Rhyse Martin, while Mckenzie Yei is at Championship favourites Featherstone.

Emmanuel Waine recently signed for London Broncos, joining prop Wellington Albert, and Watson Boas is an adopted son of Doncaster.

MORE: Papua New Guinea international heads to London Broncos

Heroes of Papua New Guinea

It’s a sure sign of progress in the country that calls rugby league its national sport.

For so long, the legendary Stanley Gene flew the Papua New Guinea flag in the UK, making 368 appearances for Hull KR, Huddersfield, Hull, Bradford and Halifax, alongside earning 19 international caps that cement his status in his homeland.

Now there are many others creating names for themselves. Progress has been boosted by the presence of the PNG Hunters in the Queensland Cup since 2014, while a strategic partnership with new NRL side Dolphins may see others make the grade there too.

Back-rower Keven Appo, like team mate Waine, will no doubt take inspiration from the progress of Ipape, who was Championship Player of the Year in his maiden year. He won the Championship Grand Final and 1895 Cup final with Leigh and then followed that up with a stellar World Cup campaign that saw him name in the team of the tournament.

His stock has risen to such an extent that even with new boys Leigh, he is top of the bookmakers’ odds to be Man of Steel, despite never having played in a top tier competition before.

There is adulation for rugby league players in Papua New Guinea like nowhere else in the world.

After captaining PNG Hunters and making 16 appearances last season, Appo made the bold decision to come to the other side of the world to continue his rugby league story.

Keven Appo told Bulls TV: “I knew I would most likely get an opportunity out there with the World Cup and clubs coming up and I would be lucky to sign.

“All the family want the best for every family member. They know that is an opportunity for me. This might be a life changing decision for me, who knows? The future is uncertain. They know they’re going to miss and it’s quite far from home but they know it’s a good opportunity and they are all really excited and supportive for that.

“Every son in Papua New Guinea they always have a ball in their hands. It’s not just on the field that we go and play, where there’s space we can play rugby, we play rugby.”

Appo’s signing was announced by Bradford back in November, but he had to wait for visa approval and clearance before making his way to the UK.

That meant some time in Port Moresby, where he studied and where the PNG Hunters team is usually based.

After arriving at Manchester Airport on Monday, Appo was met by Bulls coach Mark Dunning and quickly whisked away to Odsal for a photo opportunity and to meet his new team-mates.

Keven Appo added: “It’s been a new environment, the weather and everything, but that was what I looking forward to. I’m happy to be here and face the new challenges that come my way.

“I can see the smile on their faces and how they greet me, they have been really welcoming. I already felt I was at home on the first day that I came for training on Tuesday.”

Papua New Guinea players past and present in Super League and Championship

  • Paul Aiton (2012-18 – 48 Catalans, 47 Leeds, 47 Wakefield)
  • Dion Aiye (2015-present – 181 Whitehaven)
  • Makali Aizue (2003-17 – 159 Hull KR, 72 Dewsbury, 58 Halifax, 30 Doncaster)
  • Wellington Albert (2018-present – 18 Featherstone, 16 London, 12 Widnes, 6 Leeds, 1 North Wales)
  • Stanton Albert (2018 – 1 Widnes, 4 North Wales)
  • Stargroth Amean (2019 – 25 Barrow)
  • Marcus Bai (1996-2006 – 63 Leeds, 26 Bradford, 8 Hull)
  • Kurt Baptiste (2018 – 1 Leigh)
  • Ase Boas (2019 – 14 Featherstone)
  • Watson Boas (2019-present – 37 Doncaster, 10 Featherstone)
  • Jason Chan (2009-14 – 75 Crusaders, 63 Huddersfield, 6 Hull KR)
  • Nev Costigan (2014 – 25 Hull KR)
  • Israel Eliab (2016 – 8 London Broncos, 6 London Skolars)
  • Stanley Gene (1996-2010 – 171 Hull KR, 108 Huddersfield, 35 Hull, 24 Bradford, 11 Halifax)
  • Edwin Ipape (2022-present – 27 Leigh)
  • Adrian Lam (2001-04 – 119 Wigan)
  • Lachlan Lam (2022-present – 9 Leigh)
  • Garry Lo (2016-18 – 52 Sheffield, 1 Castleford)
  • Nene Macdonald (2022-present – 27 Leigh)
  • David Mead (2018-20 – 58 Catalans)
  • Mark Mexico (2015-17 – 58 Sheffield, 18 Newcastle)
  • Willy Minoga (2019 – 11 Barrow)
  • Jessie Joe Parker (2010-21 – 204 Whitehaven, 15 Featherstone)
  • Wartovo Puara (2019-20 – 34 Barrow)
  • James Segeyaro (2016 – 10 Leeds)
  • Jason Tali (2015-present – 135 Doncaster, 15 Newcastle)
  • Thompson Teteh (2019 – 6 Featherstone)
  • Charlie Wabo (2009-15 – 42 Hunslet, 18 Newcastle)
  • John Wilshere (2004-08 – 110 Salford, 29 Leigh, 8 Warrington)
  • Mckenzie Yei (2023-present – 1 Featherstone)
  • Menzie Yere (2009-20 – 295 Sheffield, 11 Doncaster)

Stats courtesy of Rugby League Record Keepers Club