VISITING teams to the Papua New Guinea Hunters home ground at Kalabond Oval, Kokopo would be glad to know that they can come out of the “cauldron of death” alive.
The Kalabond Stadium – known as the Graveyard is also the Agmark Gurias’ home ground – and the belief that visiting teams cannot win games there is being tested by Intrust Super Cup Teams.
Visiting teams from PNG’s National Rugby League Digicel Cup competition have struggled to win games in the East New Britain township in the past.
Teams in most cases leave PNG’s tourism hub with plenty of fond memories of the scenic views and other attractions like the volcanoes and World War 2 tunnels, complemented by the great hospitality of the locals - but minus the competition points.
Intrust Super Cup teams, the Mackay Cutters in round two and the Central Queensland Capras in round three can testify to that. The overseas teams are not immune to the local myth either despite a star-studded Australian Prime Ministers XIII team squashing that with a 50-10 win over PNG’s national team, the Kumuls last year.
The Capras prior to the match visited these wartime sites.
The Cutters (2013 premiers) went down to the Hunters 24-16 and the visit was too rosy for the Capras as they limped back home after a disappointing 46-14 outing.
Of course the wins were not handed to the SP Hunters on a silver platter – the home side had to work hard before they landed the two competition points.
After upsetting the Redcliffe Dolphins 24-18 in round one, the competition newcomers sent out clear signals that they were not in the competition to make up the numbers.
The glaring question was whether last year’s minor premiers the Northern Pride in the round four top-of-the-clash would also succumb to the Hunters?
Not so as the Pride discarded the theory on Saturday that visiting teams cannot win games at Kalabond Oval.
Locked at 12-all at halftime, the Cairns-based side restored their Pride with a strong second half to wrap up the match 34-18 and maintain their spot as the competition leaders.
Unlike the Cutters and Capras who arrived on a charter flight direct out of Cairns the day before the game – the Pride flew into Tokua Airport on an Air Niugini commercial flight on Friday.
Straight after the match on Saturday the Cutters and Capras, returned to their hotel rooms, washed up and departed for home the same evening.
Things were slightly different for Pride coach Jason Demetriou and his team.
Demetriou obviously did his homework on the Hunters and his team responded on Saturday. They even overnighted in Kokopo before returning home the next day.
“Yes I have got one back on him" (on Hunters coach Michael Marum),” Demetriou said tongue in cheek referring to the friendly rivalry between the two.
Marum was coach of the Gurias when they upset the Pride 29-22 in trial in Cairns in 2013 and delivered a similar blow on them, 26-18 in the Hunters pre-season trial last month.
Demetriou had to excuse himself from the card game with his players at Tokua Airport on Sunday to give us a short interview before they flew into Jacksons Airport to transit home.
While in Port Moresby, the Pride after checking in for their return Air Niugini flight home were given a short tour of the Bomana War Cemetery by PNG Rugby Football League officer Chris Topa.
“Most of them returned home with a completely different perception of PNG. Part of my role is to greet and travel with the visiting teams and Game officials to and from Kokopo and everyone so far has only had positive things to say about PNG and the people. The Hunters have done more to promote PNG positively than any advertising campaign could deliver” said Topa, who returned from Kokopo on the same flight and doubled up as the Prides bus driver and tour guide.
They will treasure those memories – and most certainly attest to the fact that Papua New Guinea – is not such a bad place as the media makes this county out to be.
Touch judge Andrew Wareham, who returned home after his second visit to the country on Sunday – also had plenty of praise for the team and management of the Hunters, plus positive things to say about his PNG experience.
But for teams in PNG’s NRL competition – the Digicel Cup scheduled to kick off on April 13 – they may like to take a leaf out from the Pride experience.
That with good preparation, a smart strategy and an almost flawless execution of their game plan – they too perhaps can crawl out of the Graveyard “alive” with much-needed competition points.