Leigh Leopards star Edwin Ipape will be incredibly proud to represent his beloved Papua New Guinea as he walks out onto the hallowed Wembley turf.
The Mount Hagen-born hooker says he feels like he’ll be carrying the flag of his beloved Papua New Guinea when he plays in the Challenge Cup final for Leigh Leopards against Hull KR on Saturday.
Ipape has quickly become a fan favourite at the Leigh Sports Village and has been one of the standout hookers in Super League this season.
Ipape described it as an ‘honourable feeling’ to be representing Papua New Guinea on the other side of the world, and has been bowled over by the support from his homeland.
“I started my career in PNG and they followed the journey and they’ve seen me come here,” Ipape told Love Rugby League when asked about the masses of support from PNG.
“I’ve been to Australia and they (Australian clubs) said I wasn’t good enough, I went back to PNG and then to rise from those dark moments is what got the attention and just to get that support on social media, and with Leigh Leopards, most of our support comes from Papua New Guinea.
“Most of them stay up late to watch Leigh play and my family members and close friends wish me luck every weekend.
“It’s so humbling to get the support from home, to know that there’s kids, young men and women, looking up to me is pretty special. It’s such an honourable feeling.”
Flying the flag for Papua New Guinea in England
Ipape has come an adopted Leyther during his time with the club whilst living in the Lancashire town, so much so that there’s supporters waving Papua New Guinea flags in the stands at most games.
“It tears my heart every time,” Ipape said when asked about seeing the PNG flags in the stands at Leigh matches.
“I’m an emotional guy but I don’t show my emotions outside, I keep it really close. Winning that 1895 Cup last year, just to see those flags reflecting back, you just know you’re carrying the flag of your nation in other parts of the earth.
“I may not feel it as much as some of the people who are watching from back home, to see people from other countries lifting their flag, they’ll be like tearing up more than I am. It’s massive. People back home don’t take things like that for granted, it’s really special.”
Edwin Ipape on playing at ‘iconic’ Wembley: ‘I never thought I’d be in this position’
Ipape may not be from England, but he certainly knows just how much playing at Wembley Stadium this weekend means to the people of Leigh.
“I’ve heard a lot fans coming up to me and the boys have told me the story behind this competition and how special it is and what rich history the competition holds,” Ipape added. “That made me realise how special this is and to play at Wembley, in such an iconic stadium, is just unreal.
“I can’t picture myself in that stadium, I haven’t seen this coming since I was a kid, I never thought I’d be in this position so just to be there is special to me.”
50 years in the making for Leigh Leopards
Leigh have reached their first Challenge Cup final since 1971, with the Leopards expected to take a huge following down to Wembley this weekend.
“It’s like 52 years, more than half a century,” Edwin Ipape told Love Rugby League.
“When I think of it, it makes me feel emotional for those fans because they’ve been waiting for this moment.
“Some of them might have thought they may never see Leigh at Wembley again. Some of them were waiting for that day to come but had passed on, some are still here, and just to put myself in their shoes and think ‘we’re here’ it’s something I don’t take lightly.
“This is where history is made and we’re very aware that all our fans have got our back and they’ll be travelling in numbers to cheer us on.
“I can’t believe they’ve waited for that long and finally, this group has got us to that final, we just have to win it now.”