The Eastern Highlander received a rousing welcome when he arrived at Jackson International Airport yesterday along with the rest of the Australian Prime Minister’s XIII who play PNG on Saturday night at the Sir John Guise Stadium.
“Tanku tru lo welkam blo yupela (thank you very much for your welcome),” were the words James spoke on seeing the reception waiting for him as he walked out of the terminal to board the team bus.
Despite raising a few eye brows with the decision that he would not wear the Kumul jersey again because of his desire to pursue his dream of playing State of Origin for Queensland and eventually for the Australian Kangaroos, the Penrith star is clearly loved by his people.
The Panthers hooker was met by Unggai Bena MP Benny Allan, uncle Mathias Segeyaro and a welcoming party numbering close to a hundred.
Segeyaro’s family and friends from Unggai Bena (EHP) and Matupit Island, East New Britain, packed the exit of the international terminal laying garlands on the humbled star and carrying placards and signs with welcome messages.
One said: “You have done us proud” and “You are living the rugby league dream”.
Mathias Segeyaro said James’ decision was a personal one and all his family and friends supported him and were proud of his efforts in the world’s best rugby league competition.
“That’s James’ choice and no one has any right to question it and say anything,” Mathias said of how his nephew had been criticised by some Kumuls fans who felt he had turned his back on his country.
Segeyaro played for the PNG PM’s XIII in 2011 and 2013 and but a shoulder injury prevented him from taking his place in Adrian Lam’s World Cup squad.
Mathias condemned the criticisms especially by fans on social media and in the papers since James had been named in the Australian PM’s XIII two weeks ago.
Mathias said sports fans had double standards with their disapproval of his nephew’s decision to make himself available for Australia while another PNG-born rugby union star in Wallabies halfback Will Genia was in the same situation but was never criticised for not playing for the Pukpuks.