The opening game of Group C – between PNG and Wales at Oil Search National Football Stadium, Port Moresby – is vital for both teams’ quarter final hopes. PNG have a charmed run, with all three group games in Port Moresby, and would expect to make the next stage. Wales must beat PNG to stand a quarter final chance.
PNG have the advantage, with plenty of Hunters players still buzzing from their Queensland Intrust Super Cup win. They have a healthy injection of NRL talent: David Mead (Brisbane Broncos), James Segeyaro (Cronulla Sharks), Nene Macdonald (St George-Illawarra Dragons) and Kurt Baptise (Canberra Raiders). Wales have no NRL experience but have Super League representation: captain Craig Kopczak (Salford), vice captain Philip Joseph (Salford Red Devils), Regan Grace, Ben Morris, Morgan Knowles (St Helens) and Sam Hopkins (Leigh Centurions). Josh Ralph (Tweed Heads Seagulls) and Matty Seamark (Wynnum Manly Seagulls) both play in the Queensland Intrust Super Cup.
PNG were competitive in their mini tri-series against Australia and Fiji two weekends ago. They beat PNG 10-0 and lost to Australia 20-4. While Wales haven’t played any warm-up games, they’ve been busy acclimatising to Australian conditions. Their last game was a 20-14 win over Italy (29 October 2016) to qualify for the 2017 World Cup.
Wales have played PNG three times since 1991, winning 68-0 (1991 Kumuls tour of Great Britain), 22-8 (2000 World Cup) and 50-10 (2007 Kumuls tour of Wales and France). It’s highly unlikely Wales’ unbeaten history will have any bearing on this game, as PNG have come a long way since 2007.
The respective captains’ contributions will be crucial in the opening game. Again PNG have a massive advantage with current Brisbane Bronco David Mead leading them. Along with over 150 NRL games for the Gold Coast Titans and Broncos, Mead has played nine Tests for PNG, plenty of experience to draw on and encourage some less-experienced teammates. Wales have Craig Kopczak leading them; he’ll need to use his 308 games of UK experience (Bradford Bulls, Halifax, Huddersfield Giants and Salford), to give Wales hope of victory.
Infront of a passionate home crowd, PNG should win this game comfortably and set themselves up for a quarter final berth. Wales will be competitive early, but their lack of recent match experience – and the foreign conditions – will hurt them at the back end, so expect PNG to score plenty of points late.
Papua New Guinea by 20.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 28
Papua New Guinea v Wales at Oil Search National Football Stadium, Port Moresby, 4pm (AEDT)
PNG 21-man squad: 1. David Mead (c) 2. Justin Olam 3. Kato Ottio 4. Nene Macdonald 5. Garry Lo 6. Ase Boas 7. Watson Boas 8. Stanton Albert 9. Wartovo Puara 10. Luke Page 11. Rhyse Martin 12. Rod Griffin 13. Paul Aiton 14. Kurt Baptiste 15. Willie Minoga 16. James Segeyaro 17. Enock Maki 18. Lachlan Lam 19. Stargroth Amean 20. Wellington Albert 21. Moses Meninga
Wales 21-man squad: 1. Elliot Kear, 2. Rhys Williams, 3. Michael Channing, 4. Andrew Gay, 5. Regan Grace, 6. Courtney Davies, 7. Matt Seamark, 8. Craig Kopczak (c), 9. Steve Parry, 10. Philip Joseph, 11. Rhodri Lloyd, 12. Ben Morris, 13. Morgan Knowles, 14. Matty Fozard, 15. Sam Hopkins, 16. Ben Evans, 17. Chester Butler, 18. Josh Ralph, 19. Dalton Grant, 20. Christiaan Roets, 21. Matthew Barron