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Culture shock of footy in PNG

Locals in Kokopo took any vantage point they could find even to watch the Mackay Cutters train. Copyright: Courtesy Glenn Ottaway Credit: Glenn Ottaway Copyright: Glenn Ottaway
The Intrust Super Cup broke new ground last weekend when the PNG Hunters hosted their first game at Kalabond Oval in Kokopo.

They defeated the Mackay Cutters 24-16 to maintain their unbeaten start to the season and while they may have finished on the wrong side of the scoreboard, it was an experience those members of the Cutters who travelled will never forget.

Here, Mackay Cutters Executive Officer Glenn Ottaway takes us behind the scenes of how the Intrust Super Cup is being received in PNG and the reception other visiting teams to Kokopo can expect during the course of the season:

Despite some ordinary weather on arrival, the spirits of the players lifted immediately as the hospitality and passion of the locals was on show from the very beginning. The touring party was greeted at the airport by traditional dancing and a group of more than 100 locals who turned up for a glimpse of the team and a photo opportunity. The chance for a photo or video was not even passed in by the airport ground staff and customs officials who all had their phones at the ready as the group crossed the tarmac.  

It quickly became evident that the police escort from the airport to the hotel was overkill as the locals lined the streets and stopped work to wave at the passing bus. Even the prison chain gangs who are used to clear bushland on the road sides (and who are seemingly loosely guarded) stopped work to wish the team well.

We arrived at the Kokopo Beach Bungalows (KBB) at around 2.30pm and were ushered straight to lunch. The boys were very quick to comment on how the food and service was well above the usual standard. Donna and her staff at KBB catered for our every need. They could not do enough for us and made us feel very welcome despite taking over most of the hotel. I definitely think our players will remember the people more than anything else.

A group of 15 players made the trip on Saturday morning to the local markets. The market vendors seemed to have little interest in selling us their product as long as we stopped for photos, handshakes or to simply say good morning. Some of the boys were keen to buy a Bilam bag, a woven over-the-shoulder bag used by locals. Two unnamed players returned to the bus proud of their purchase, however, like in any local market around the world, it pays to do your homework as on close inspection we found the ‘Made in China’ label.

It was an unusual preparation for game-day.  Again, the hospitality of the staff at KBB was evident as they allowed us to take over the hotel function room and create a makeshift dressing room. The bus trip to the ground was also unusual as we had to travel in full playing kit as there were no dressing shed facilities at Kalabond Oval. It was straight from the bus to the field for warm-up.

Although we did not get the on-field result we were after, the whole experience was extremely rewarding for our group. It would be fair to say that most players indicated it was the best life experience the game has given them. The community of which we were a part of for a very short period of time was filled with friendly, beautiful people. They are very passionate and enthusiastic about life in general and fully appreciate the small things that we probably take for granted every day.

On behalf of the Mackay Cutters I would like to sincerely thank all those that made it possible for us to have our young men experience what they did.

For Glenn Ottaway's full account of the Cutters' trip to PNG click here.

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