On the same weekend that Eden Park hosts the NRL Nines tournament, Penrith Panthers will send a team to Port Moresby to open their magnificent new stadium.
The National Football Stadium will host Intrust Super Cup team PNG Hunters on a permanent basis in 2016 after they played out of Kokopo while they waited for the venue to be completed.
It’s likely that 15,000 Papau New Guinea die hard rugby league fans will pack the stadium for the friendly game to be played on Saturday February 6.
General Manager Phil Gould headed a delegation of Panthers management to the venue late last year when the Hunters played a few of their games at the National Football Stadium, and was immediately impressed with the facility and passion of the supporters.
It wouldn’t surprise me that the National Football Stadium hosts a National Rugby League match within the next two or three years and quite possibly Penrith with the influence of James Segeyaro.
Despite the travel and broadcast logistics, the lure of a club game would guarantee a sell out. Controversially last year the Queensland Rugby League denied the Hunters a home qualifying Grand Final match in Port Moresby sighting enormous costs involved.
There’s no doubt the long term plan is for PNG Hunters to be included in the NRL. They aren’t the only ones looking to secure a future with a couple of bids from Queensland, and a revamped Western Australia bid heading the list. Unfortunately expansion of the game has been temporarily placed on hold under the new NRL blueprint.
The success of the PNG Hunters in their short Intrust Super Cup history has been phenomenal. They left their worse performance of the year to their last, soundly beaten by eventual premiers Ipswich Jets. The result overshadowing an outstanding season for the club.
It will be a different looking Hunters side in 2016 under Michael Marum with the departure of big Willie Minoga and talented half Israel Eliab leaving the club.
Despite these two big losses, PNG Hunters are showing faith in their Digicel Cup competition in finding the next rising star.
As for Penrith’s contribution to the friendly, local product and PNG International Wellington Albert will line-up for the visitors. Veteran halfback Jamie Soward will join fellow top grader Sam McKendry and soon to be regular Andy Saunders in the squad. Josh Hall gets his first taste of footy after a move from AFL club Gold Coast Suns. Nathan Cleary, son of Ivan is also heading north for the game.
PANTHERS SQUAD: Jamie Soward, Brent Naden, Andy Saunders, Josh Hall, Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, Wellington Albert, Sam McKendry, James Fisher-Harris, Marli Sini, Maliko Filino, Sitaleki Akauola, Rodney Coates, Suaia Matagi, Sam Clune, Josh Tangitau, Peter Nay, Ray Lesoa, Nathan Cleary, Leilani Latu, Tyrone May, Tupou Sopoaga, Jerry Key, Oliver Clark, Atonio Pelasasa