Meninga’s Kangaroo appointment leaves Kumuls fans cold

Mal Meninga, it is fair to say, is not a popular man in Papua New Guinea.

The news Down Under this week has focused on the former Test centre’s appointment to the role of coach of the Australia national team.

From the way in which the Australian media were treating the issue, any possible conflict of interest with Meninga’s continuing in the Queensland State of Origin coaching role was the main controversy.

That, of course, never materialised, as Meninga left his contract with the State of Origin side to take on the Kangaroo role.

But, barely reported, that also means his somewhat unhappy spell as Papua New Guinea national coach and performance director, has come to an end.

Not that anyone in PNG was that disappointed he was finally going, it was more the manner in which he seemed to treat the job while he was there that raised hackles.

For a flavour of Meninga’s time in charge, it pays to cast one’s eyes back to the 2013 World Cup in Europe.

PNG, despite having players like Menzie Yere, Paul Aiton, Charlie Wabo, Nev Costigan and a solid core of other top players familiar to Super League and NRL fans, finished bottom of their group.

They lost an awful game at the KC Lightstream Stadium in Hull to France by a single point, with a missed place kick on the hooter denying them victory.

But they were swept aside by New Zealand in imperious fashion at Headingley, and were desperately disappointing in their defeat to Samoa too.

For a country with the passion for the sport which PNG possesses, that was a poor show.

Kumuls fans also slated Meninga during his time in charge for his apparent lack of commitment to the cause.

The coach hardly seemed to be in PNG at all. Not that he had to oversee that many games anyway, with only the annual non-Test against an Australia Prime Minister’s XIII inked in every year.

There are also suspicions in PNG that Meninga merely used the role to help to spot possible talent for future Queensland teams. His commitment to the cause of Pacific rugby league generally, and the game’s development in the region, have also been called into question.

His persuading of Antony Millford to play for Queensland Under-20s rather than Samoa was seen as evidence of this attitude from the coach.

Many Pacific fans felt that Meninga could have acted as a figurehead for the region, helping to trigger the international rejuvenation that the sport so desperately needs.

Instead, he leaves PNG rugby league in disarray. They have slipped down the rankings to behind Fiji and Samoa as the main Pacific hotbed of international rugby league.

PNG players like Paul Aiton have spoken out to criticise the governing bodies in the country for their lack of attention to basic player welfare and facilities.

It looks likely that Aiton, and many of the overseas PNG contingent, will not be picked for the country as a result of speaking out in this way.

PNG rugby league often looks chaotic to outsiders, and it is fair to say that there are many issues which continue to plague the sport there.

But the passion of the people and the sheer numbers of players in the country shows the huge potential that the nation has.

Meninga was rumoured to be taking home Aus$500,000 a year for the job, which, whether true or not, reveals a perception amongst PNG fans that he was being overpaid and not doing enough.

Interestingly, the PNG RL authorities have stated that they did not hear from Meninga in the run-up to him taking the Kangaroos job.

Meninga does, or did, have a contract in place to coach the Kumuls through to the 2017 World Cup, which will feature some fixtures in PNG itself.

“I am disappointed because the office hasn’t heard anything from Mal regarding his appointment,” said Bob Cutmore, the chief executive of the PNG RL.

“That could be just an oversight and I could well imagine that in the time but it is a bit disappointing to me that we haven’t been officially informed that he was going to take the position, when he has a current contract from us.

“The current contract still stands until I actually get notified from him, or his management team, that he has accepted the contract with the Australian Rugby League and his contract here is terminated but I haven’t officially been informed of that yet.”

Whatever the ins and outs, not contacting a body to whom you are contracted when accepting another job does not make for a good look.

It could also be argued that Meninga’s reputation as a coach is based on the performances of a freakishly great generation of Queensland stars.

As competition grows on the international stage, with the Kiwis and England starting to push the Kangaroos hard to be top dog in Test footy, how Meninga copes will be interesting.

Based on his spell with PNG, it would seem that tough challenges just aren’t his thing as a coach.

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