The phenomenal 17 Papua New Guinea could select if they chose from every eligible player

Ben Olawumi
Rhyse Martin, Nene Macdonald, Edwin Ipape

From left to right: Papua New Guinea's Super League stars Rhyse Martin, Nene Macdonald, Edwin Ipape

Over the next few months, we’re looking at the dream side each nation could select if they were able to choose from every eligible player. Kicking things off, it’s Papua New Guinea!

In these feature pieces, we are selecting a starting 13 and a four-strong bench able to represent a particular country. This can include players born there, those with heritage to the nation or even those eligible via residency rules.

It doesn’t matter where players ply their trade on the domestic front, be it in Super League, the NRL or even elsewhere.

These line-ups are made in collaboration with He Can Play For on X (formerly Twitter). Make sure to check their page out!

So, without further ado, here’s Papua New Guinea‘s Dream 17…

1. Alex Johnston

Alex Johnston, Jack Welsby
Papua New Guinea’s Alex Johnston & England’s Jack Welsby jostle to get to the ball during the pair’s 2021 Rugby League World Cup quarter-final

South Sydney Rabbitohs ace Johnston, crowned an NRL champion in 2014, is the third-highest try-scorer in Australian first-grade rugby league history, and at 29, he will no doubt reach the very top of that list before he hangs up his boots.

Born in Sydney, the back debuted on the international scene for the Kangaroos back in 2015, but switched to represent the Kumuls via his heritage in 2019 and has scored three tries in 10 appearances for PNG since.

2. Nene Macdonald

Port Moresby native Macdonald, an 18-time Kumuls international, has been lighting up the British game since his arrival at Leigh in 2022, ending the season as the then-Centurions’ top try-scorer as they sealed promotion to Super League and lifted the 1895 Cup.

With just under 100 NRL appearances made prior to his move over to England, featuring for a number of clubs Down Under, the outside-back spent 2023 with Leeds Rhinos and moved on to Salford Red Devils ahead of this season. The 30-year-old is now one of the main men in Paul Rowley’s side, who constantly look to upset the odds.

RELATED: The 9 Papua New Guinea stars playing in Super League this season as Kumuls contingent in British game grows

3. Justin Olam

Justin Olam
Justin Olam in action for Papua New Guinea at the delayed 2021 Rugby League World Cup

Born and raised in the village of Gon, centre Olam was the second player from PNG to get his break in the NRL without having played any junior rugby league in Australia, following in the footsteps of Marcus Bai. At 30, he now has over 100 appearances among Australia’s elite to his name, selected in the 2021 Team of the Year equivalent as a ‘Dally M’ centre.

Joining Wests Tigers ahead of the start of this season, ex-Lae Snax Tigers & PNG Hunters star Olam brought an end to six years at Melbourne Storm with that move. He’s featured 16 times for the Kumuls, scoring eight tries including one in the delayed 2021 Rugby League World Cup against Cook Islands, in a game held at Warrington Wolves’ Halliwell Jones Stadium.

4. Zac Laybutt

22-year-old Laybutt – born in Queensland but a Kumuls representative via his heritage – is currently sidelined with an ACL injury, but when fit, he is the definition of a ‘starlet’. Having cut his teeth in the youth competitions Down Under, he got his NRL debut midway through last season and up until his injury, hadn’t looked back since.

Justin Holbrook handed him his PNG bow in last autumn’s Pacific Championships, scoring a brace on debut against the Cook Islands and kicking five goals, too. The Kumuls, of course, went on to lift the Pacific Bowl, becoming the inaugural champions of that tournament.

RELATED: Hull KR announce ‘groundbreaking’ new partnership with Papua New Guinean club

5.  Xavier Coates

Xavier Coates
Xavier Coates walks out ahead of a Melbourne Storm training session in 2024

Just a few months older is 23-year-old Coates, who dreamed of representing PNG in the athletics section at the Olympics growing up but was converted into rugby league following a phone call with a certain Greg Inglis! The youngster has already represented Queensland in State of Origin, testament to the talent he possesses.

Having debuted for PNG in June 2019, he was handed his NRL bow by Brisbane Broncos the following month and scored a try to mark the occasion. Five years on, he still awaits his second Kumuls cap, but is still tearing up the NRL having linked up with Melbourne in 2022. Coates is fast approaching a century of senior appearances Down Under.

6. Kyle Laybutt

We’ve had one brother, and we’re taking the other. 28-year-old Kyle made two NRL appearances for North Queensland Cowboys back in 2017 but that was as good as it got, and he has been playing in the Queensland Cup ever since, currently with South Sydney’s affiliate side – the Townsville Blackhawks.

We believe his omission from the NRL shows just how much quality there is Down Under, particularly in the halves. After all, despite being a Q Cup regular, he’s never lost his spot in the Kumuls side, representing them via his heritage just like younger sibling Zac. Now with 12 international caps, Kyle’s first tries for PNG came at the Rugby League World Cup in 2022.

7. Lachlan Lam

Lachlan Lam Papua New Guinea Alamy
Lachlan Lam in action for Papua New Guinea at the delayed 2021 Rugby League World Cup

One of Super League’s finest halves playing under Rabaul-born dad Adrian, Sydney-born playmaker Lachlan Lam is at the heart of everything Leigh do well. The 26-year-old made 31 NRL appearances for Sydney Roosters between 2019 and 2021, linking up with the then-Centurions midway through the following season.

Having helped them into Super League, Lam – now a Leopard – enjoyed a fine first campaign in the British game’s top flight last term and got into the Dream Team. His form has carried on into this year, and with six tries in 10 PNG appearances having debuted on the international scene in 2017, he looks like the man the Kumuls need to build their team around.

RELATED: Leigh Leopards stars Lachlan Lam & Edwin Ipape ‘humbled’ by Papua New Guinea support as hooker takes a trip down memory lane

8. Sylvester Namo

Goroka-born Namo – raised in Mount Hagen – cut his teeth in the Queensland Cup having started out his rugby league journey with the KK Brothers Vikings, a local outfit. After spending 2023 on a ‘train and trial’ deal with the North Queensland Cowboys, without making an NRL appearance, he linked up with Super League side Castleford Tigers ahead of 2024.

The prop, 23, has made three appearances to date for Cas and one on dual-registration for League 1 outfit Newcastle Thunder, and is currently coming towards the end of a lengthy ban picked up during a Challenge Cup tie with Wigan Warriors. Namo’s four caps for PNG so far all came during the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.

RELATED: Every Papua New Guinea international to have played in Super League

9. Edwin Ipape

Edwin Ipape
Edwin Ipape in action for Papua New Guinea at the delayed 2021 Rugby League World Cup

We’re on a bit of a roll now with Super League players, and here we have another Leigh star in Ipape. Arriving ahead of 2022, he has been a big part of the club’s rise over the last few years, winning the Championship Player of the Year in his first season in the British game and excelling since, barring his injury troubles at the start of 2024.

Like many in this side, the 25-year-old featured for the PNG Hunters earlier on in his career, with the closest he came to an NRL gig a ‘train and trial’ deal with Manly Sea Eagles in 2020. Named in the 2021 Rugby League World Cup Team of the Tournament, the Mount Hagen native has 10 Kumuls caps to his name, scoring a try in the Pacific Bowl final success against Fiji last November.

10. Emmanuel Waine

Jiwaka Province-born Waine is incredibly versatile. A second-rower by trade, he’s also able to slot in pretty much anywhere in the forward line and at centre, where he filled in on a couple of occasions for London Broncos in 2023, making 14 appearances en-route to promotion up from the Championship via the Million Pound Game against Toulouse Olympique.

Since the Broncos’ promotion, the 27-year-old has found gametime trickier to come by, not featuring since Round 1 when Mike Eccles’ side were beaten at St Helens. Nonetheless, having picked up his first three Kumuls caps in the 2021 Rugby League World Cup, he could well be in with a shout of making a return to the squad.

RELATED: London Broncos ace Emmanuel Waine details ‘massive privilege’ of being a Super League player

11. Dan Russell

Dan Russell
Dan Russell stretches out to score a try for Papua New Guinea against Wales at the delayed 2021 Rugby League World Cup

Russell is another who hasn’t quite nailed down an NRL gig, making eight appearances for St George Illawarra Dragons at the back end of last season before returning to the club’s second-grade side in the Queensland Cup this term, a competition he is very familiar with.

He is now a mainstay in the Kumuls’ team however, accruing 10 appearances since his international debut in 2019, born in Queensland but with a father from Port Moresby who was raised in Madang. Like many in this team, 28-year-old Russell – who has previously been on the Cowboys’ books – has also featured for the PNG Prime Minister’s XIII & the PNG 9s.

12. Rhyse Martin

Leeds Rhinos star Martin, 31, is one of the best goal-kickers around, but the other facets of his game are just as impressive, hence why he’s become such a firm fan favourite at Headingley having arrived midway through the 2019 campaign. Since then, he’s surpassed a century of appearances for the club, and is now just 102 off the milestone of 1,000 points in their colours.

Only five men have scored more points for Leeds in the summer era. Pulling on a shirt for the Combined Nations All Stars against England in 2022, the Cairns-born ace – formerly of NRL outfit Canterbury Bulldogs – now racked up 17 appearances for PNG. He needs to feature six more times for the Kumuls to level Max Tiri’s all-time record of 23 appearances for the nation.

LRL EXCLUSIVE: Off-contract Leeds Rhinos & Papua New Guinea star Rhyse Martin attracting NRL interest

13. Jack de Belin

Jack de Belin
Jack de Belin in action for St George Illawarra Dragons in 2024

New South Wales native de Belin, a testicular cancer survivor, qualifies for PNG via his grandmother, who was born in the country. The 33-year-old has three international appearances on his CV so far, debuting and impressing in last year’s Pacific Championships.

Also able to slot in as a prop, the Cootamundra-born veteran has spent his whole career with St George, making over 200 NRL appearances for the Dragons having first appeared among Australia’s elite back in 2011. de Belin has also represented New South Wales in the 2018 State of Origin series, and brings a heap of experience to this side.


14. Liam Horne

Hooker Horne – also able to slot in at loose – made his Kumuls debut in June 2022 against Fiji, and 13 months later earned himself a mid-season move to Super League with Castleford having shone in the Queensland Cup for sides including Norths Devils & the Central Queensland Capras.

The 26-year-old, born in Port Moresby, has 18 appearances for the Tigers to his name at the time of writing and also featured for PNG on another two occasions at the back end of last year in the inaugural Pacific Championships.

RELATED: Liam Horne representing Papua New Guinea with pride in Super League

15. Jacob Alick

Jacob Alick
Jacob Alick in action for Papua New Guinea at the delayed 2021 Rugby League World Cup

Born in Brisbane, 24-year-old Alick represents PNG through his heritage with his grandmother hailing from Daru, the capital of the nation’s Western Province. The forward, who has played both at loose and in the second row for the Kumuls, made his international debut in 2022 against Fiji & featured at the World Cup later that same year.

He now has seven caps and played five games in the NRL for the Gold Coast Titans in 2023, debuting in Round 19 against the Dolphins. Alick has spent 2024 playing in the Queensland Cup for the Tweed Heads Seagulls so far, one of two non-Queensland-based teams in that competition. The other is the PNG Hunters.

16. Nixon Putt

The last Super League player in this side is another versatile offering in Putt, who has followed a quite similar path to Castleford team-mate Horne – featuring for Norths Devils & the Central Queensland Capras prior to making the move to the Jungle. Arriving in West Yorkshire ahead of this season, the 28-year-old has featured four times for the Tigers so far.

Also appearing out on dual-registration for Newcastle Thunder like team-mate Namo, Mount Hagen-born Putt made his international debut for the Kumuls back in 2017, then a PNG Hunters players. Also featuring for the Prime Minister’s XIII & in 9s format, Putt has now played 15 ‘full’ internationals, scoring five tries.

RELATED: Huddersfield Giants winger Elliot Wallis – Nations like Nigeria can develop in the game, just look at Papua New Guinea’s growth

17. Keven Appo

Makahesi Makatoa tackles Keven Appo
Papua New Guinea ace Keven Appo is tackled by Cook Islands star Makahesi Makatoa at the delayed 2021 Rugby League World Cup

Rounding things off is Goroka-born Appo, currently playing in the RFL Championship with Bradford Bulls, who the forward has featured 43 times for with 13 tries to his name since arriving at Odsal ahead of the 2023 season.

Prior to the Bulls, Appo – a three-time Kumuls international who debuted for his home nation at the delayed 2021 Rugby League World Cup – featured for the PNG Hunters. Notably, the Hunters are now a feeder club for the Dolphins in the NRL.