While the 2018 #NRL Pre-Season is still a few weeks away, there's a bunch of warm-up clashes happeni...
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Rugby League in Papua New Guinea has been something of an absolute legend.
Each year the Prime Minister's XIII visit the country to face the locals they are constantly overwhelmed regarding what the game means to the people of the country. The only country where Rugby League is the official national sport, Papua New Guinea will host their most important matches in history with their three pool matches all hosted in the nation's capital. It all begins with their match against the visiting Welsh side, with both nations hoping to reverse the scenario from the 2013 World Cup where they failed to win a single match.
Walking into the game the two nations have had completely different paths between the World Cups. Papua New Guinea have gained the opportunity to play more internationals against quality opposition in the past few seasons thanks to the International Week events that have taken placew early in the season for the last three years. Despite the fact they have the least amount of experienced first grade players out of the major Pacific nations, they have managed more than credible results. They have recorded wins in the past two years, upsetting a highly fancied Fijian side 24-22 in Parramatta last year and defeating a spirited Cook Islands outfit 32-22 in Campbelltown this year. They also had a recent run-out against Fiji and Australia in the recent Tri-Nations event, recording a 10-0 victory over the hosting Fijian side and a credible 20-4 defeat against the championship side Australia. With very few first graders, the Kumuls have relied on their large group of players from the PNG Hunters side. Rightly so too, as the Hunters were successful in capturing the Intrust Super Cup this season.
Wales clearly struggled through the 2013 World Cup. They didn't have a wonderful period entering the event in the first place having been decimated not surprisingly by the big three nations in the 2011 Four Nations. Following the World Cup the Welsh side struggled greatly in the 2014 European Cup, conceeding over 40 points every game and losing greatly. The 2015 event however was a complete turnaround, winning all three matches despitebeing without leading players Lloyd White, Ben Flower and Matty Fozard. Wales qualified early for the 2017 World Cup with a 50-0 win over Serbia, followed by a 20-14 win over fellow competitors Italy.
Last meeting: 2007, Frendly - Wales 50 PNG 10 at Bridgend
The two sides have met on three occasions with the Kumuls obtaining little success. In their 1991 tour of Europe, the Welsh side defeated the visiting Papua New Guineans 68-0, scoring thirteen tries in the process. In a dour tour, the Kumuls won just one from their eleven matches. The two sides met again in a much closer match-up in the 2000 World Cup Quarter-Finals, with Wales winning that one 22-8.
In the most recent match, the two sides faced off in Bridgend, with the hosting Welsh side claiming a 50-10 victory. Despite leading 6-0 early in the match, the Kumuls were never a chance in the match-up. Of course the eventual outcome of the match was never really an issue for the Papua New Guineans, who were automatic qualifiers for the upcoming World Cup and eventually forced into the pool of death with the Big Three nations. Wales eventually failed to qualify. Wales had plenty of experience in the squad, with the Celtic Crusaders at the time a big part of the Super League picture.
Who to watch: Iestyn Harris doesn't have too many experienced players to call upon in this tournament, particularly following the retirement of hero Lee Briers. Injuries have hurt the side as well, with Ben Flower, Ollie Olds and Rhys Evans all suffering injuries before the event. So not surprisingly, they need their experienced forwards in Salford Red Devils pair Craig Kopczak and Philip Joseph. Against what will clearly be a physical Kumuls outfit in front of their home crowd, the Red Dragons will need their key big men to stand up if they have any chance of claiming victory.
Papua New Guinea have plenty of first grade experience, with David Mead, Nene MacDonald, Paul Aiton, James Segeyaro and Kurt Baptiste all bringing in valuable assets to the squad. These players, combined with the aforementioned Hunters will make for interesting viewing. Plenty of pressure will be on Hunters captain and Kumuls vice-captain Ase Boas. Following a personal best season for him, being named the Intrust Super Cup player of the year, Boas will be leading the attack with halves partner and brother Watson for the Kumuls. Ase brings plenty of excitement to the side. Papua New Guinea have had a history of World Cups bringing some of their star players into the spotlight, and eventually higher status, particularly in the English Championship. Boas may be one of few on the lookout.
The favourite: The improvements Papua New Guinea have made for this competition is quite noteable. Their match-up against Australia showed the usual breat courage, even at the cost of natural ability. While the Welsh will be looking to continue their streak against the hosts, the Kumuls are seemingly too strong, especially at home.
My tip: Personally, I will be tipping the Kumuls. Wales will bring a great difficulty, but the combinations made by Hunters players should be too strong. I will be tipping PNG in a low scoring match-up. Kumuls by 4.
1. David Mead 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. Willie Minoga 13. Paul Aiton 14. Kurt Baptiste 15. Wellington Albert 16. James Segeyaro 17. Enoch Maki
1. Elliot Kear 2. Rhys Williams 3. Michael Channing 4. Andrew Gay 5. Regan Grace 6. Courtney Davies 7. Matt Seamark 8. Craig Kopczak 9. Steve Parry 10. Phil Joseph 11. Rhodri Lloyd 17. Chester Butler 13. Morgan Knowles 12. Ben Morris 14. Matty Fozard 15. Sam Hopkins 16. Ben Evans