PNG Products: The power and the passion

Papua New Guinea is the only country in the world where rugby league is the national sport, so it should perhaps not be surprising that so many fine players who have graced the Btitish game have their origins there.

From John Okul and Stanley Gene, to Menzie Yere and Charlie Wabo, with (Makaile) Aizue and Jesse Joe Nande, PNG players have captured the hearts of spectators across rugby league land.

So what is it about these Warriors from distant Pacific Islands which seems to appeal so much to UK clubs and fans?

Well, for one thing, every PNG player seems to have an inbuilt fearlessness that immediately endears them to supporters. Everyone can remember a time when a PNG player flattened someone in a game.

This comes from being schooled in a hard rugby environment, as former Hull KR player John Okul recently explained, labelling the domestic rugby league he experienced as a young player as “legalised tribal warfare”.

“No matter how tough a game was, what happened on the pitch, stayed on the pitch,” Okul told the Hull KR and PNG Kumuls Supporters’ Alliance.

“As soon as a game was over, all I wanted to do was shake the hand of my opponents. It was the same for everyone. There was a great mutual respect off the pitch.”

JOHN OKUL

The honour and utter commitment to the cause is perhaps attributable to culture and geography, with many people in PNG living hard lives.

Former Hull KR legend Stanley Gene has explained in the past how the desire to obtain running water facilities for his home village was a big motivation for him being a professional player.

“It is an island with plentiful supplies of natural resources such as oil, cocoa, coffee, gold and copper, which have attracted overseas companies to the cities, providing much-needed infrastructure,” Gene explains, on the Stanley Gene Foundation website.

“However Papua New Guinea is one of the most diverse countries in the world, with over 800 different languages being spoken across its many villages, which are scattered amongst dense jungles and inhospitable mountain ranges.

Papua New Guinea‘s diversity is not only what makes it such a fascinating place, but also indicates just how isolated the majority of the communities are.”

STANLEY GENE

Growing up in that environment makes you tough, and PNG players who come to the UK have shown the kind of bravery and resilience that British fans love.

One story about Sheffield centre Menzie Yere shows just how tough.

Apparently, after his knee injury in 2014, Yere was ruled out for the season. Ligament damage was too severe for him to play, and he would need an operation that could keep him out for a year or longer.

A couple of weeks rest, however, and Yere passed a fitness test with flying colours, much to the bafflement of the surgeons. Not many would have noticed that the centre was carrying the injury from his performances in the weeks after.

MENZIE YERE

Other players have passed into legend in the UK for their toughness and skill. Stanley Gene is a cult hero at Hull KR, after two spells at the club, the latter in Super League, before starring in Red and White at the top level too.

London Broncos coach Andrew Henderson has just signed PNG national team skipper Israel Eliab from PNG for his club for 2016.

He has also lined up alongside players like Yere and against the likes Mikali Aizue.

“You tend to find with these PNG guys that they are durable,” he told Love Rugby League.

“They are resilient, they are tough and if they’re carrying an injury into the game, they’ll still play in the same manner.

“I know from playing with Menzie, that there were plenty of games he went into where he was busted and he still managed to produce the goods, and he would even win you games.

“They bring a bit of a different dynamic to your team and a buzz and a bit of X factor.

“Look at people like Paul Aiton at Leeds [now Catalans], he’s a very crafty player.

Menzie Yere, Stanley Gene and people like that – you can say they had flair and X factor about them.

“Mikali Aizue was a huge big hitter in the Super League in his time.

“Albeit he was a front rower, but he brought a different dynamic in that he was an intimidator and an enforcer on the field.

“I’m not saying that they’re all outstanding, but from what I’ve seen, of players I’ve played against and played with, they bring something else to the party.”

RUGY LEAGUE IN PNG

With Mark Mexico and Garry Lo set to play for Sheffield alongside Yere in 2016, and with Aizue and Eliab playing their trade in the Championship too, UK fans can thrill to the exploits of these beloved Pacific warriors, and their pride and power, for at least another season.

And with the PNG Hunters flying high in the Queensland Cup, the omens are good for the future of the sport in this rugby league-obsessed country.

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