The match is as close to rugby league test as fans can get, with Meninga’s Australians coming in with intent and ready to flex their substantial muscle, while Marum’s brave bunch of locals are prepared to put it all on the line for pride and country.
While the focus may be on the superstar Aussies, who have made it clear they are taking the clash seriously, the involvement of so many big names is a huge plus for the annual fixture which serves to highlight violence in sport and against women.
Hundreds of eager fans crowded the Jackson’s Airport International arrivals gate yesterday afternoon to catch a glimpse of their favourite Australian stars.
This was proof that while the local league fans are loyal to the national side, they could not resist the chance to see in person some of the National Rugby League’s biggest and best.
Chanting the big names as they walked out of the terminal, the members of the Kangaroos were stunned by the response of their entrance into the country.
Australian coach Mal Meninga reiterated the team line this week: they are serious about this game even though it was a friendly contest used to promote important social issues in a rugby league-mad nation.
“Obviously we’re not aware of the Papua New Guinea side yet but we’ll find out, we’ll work out something and of course we’ve come prepared,” Meninga said of his side’s approach to the annual fixture which started in 2005.
As the former Kumuls coach, Meninga said they respected every team they came up against and facing PNG on their turf would be no different.
He said naming a strong side would also benefit PNG in terms of providing the opportunity for local players to experience what it was like to face a strong team made up of some of the best NRL players.
As a former understudy to Meninga when he was Kumul coach, PNG PM’s 13 mentor Michael Marum backed Meninga’s take on the approach his side needed to take against the star-studded Aussies.
The Hunters and Kumuls coach said the game would be a boost for his players in terms of their expereince and development.
Both sides have their captain’s run today at the NFS and will also participate in the League Bilong Laif programme with students from selected schools in the city.
“It is always important to get these messages across to people and there is no better time to get the message across,” Meninga said.
PNG Rugby Football League chairman Sandis Tsaka welcomed Meninga and his men and wished them the best in their short stay in Port Moresby.
The sold-out match kicks off at 4.30pm and the gates open from noon. Two curtainraiser games include the Port Moresby Women’s Rugby League grand final between the Paga Panthers and Royals at 12pm, and then an Under-16 clash between PNG and New South Wales.
NFS general manager Lee Pokarop confirmed with The National that tickets for the 15,000-seat venue had sold out on Wednesday.
Pokarop said no tickets would be sold at the venue and the live and exclusive coverage of the game would begin from 1pm on TVWAN.