Northern Pride star Blake Leary with representatives from the Cairns PNG Wantoks Association. Credit: Courtesy Northern Pride Copyright: Courtesy Northern Pride
Papua New Guinea's chances of an improved showing at the 2017 World Cup rest with the success of the new PNG Hunters franchise and greater junior development according to Titans winger David Mead.
The Hunters play their first official trial as the newest member of Queensland's Intrust Super Cup against the Northern Pride in Cairns on Sunday evening with great anticipation surrounding how competitive they will be in their first season.
The Pride hosted the Rabaul Agmark Gurias in a trial last season and the visitors recorded a 29-22 win while the Pride went on to finish the Intrust Super Cup season as minor premiers.
It was a different story for PNG at the World Cup however, with the Kumuls failing to register a win for the third straight World Cup campaign having won the 2009 Pacific Cup against the Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji and Samoa.
Political disputes regarding the make-up of the Kumuls team for the 2010 Four Nations caused wide-ranging and lasting friction but Mead believes that the inclusion of the Hunters into one of the world's premier rugby league competitions will enhance their aspirations for 2017.
"I'll be going to watch them whatever chance I get when they come to Queensland. For PNG to move forward, I think it's a good step for the country," said Mead, who represented the Kumuls at the World Cup.
"That will show the quality of players that there are and how much they can improve. Things are looking good for the country and I think they'll do well in the Queensland Cup.
"A lot of people I've spoken to reckon the Digicel Cup (PNG's premier rugby league competition) has gone backwards 10 years so something's got to be done about that.
"There are junior systems being put in place and obviously a Queensland Cup team coming in which is a positive move for the country.
"Put the systems in place and get the local players a lot more experienced playing against high quality players, then the game will definitely move forward and PNG will perform a lot better at the World Cup."
Mead, Paul Aiton, Neville Costigan and Ray Thompson were the only players with NRL experience in the Kumuls squad for the World Cup with the Hunters sure to benefit from a number of their players being exposed to such a high standard of competition.
The Hunters will play Redcliffe in the opening round of the Intrust Super Cup on Sunday, March 2 and with three games at their home ground in Kokopo to follow, could find themselves in a lofty position after a month of football.
Queensland Origin coach and Team Kumul coaching director Mal Meninga has replaced Adrian Lam as the PNG national coach and Mead believes the adoration for which he is held will also enhance their prospects at the international level.
"Mal's such a huge influence in the country, everyone loves him," Mead told NRL.com. "A lot of people I've spoken to, my uncle and cousins, they all loved him when he was playing centre.
"He was the dominant centre in his era and he's such a huge influence. When he walks into the country everyone just listens to him and everything he has to say, players in the team listen to. I think that's such a huge influence for PNG to have him as a part of their system."
The first 1,000 spectators to enter 'The Jungle' – aka Barlow Park in Cairns – for Sunday's trial between the Pride and Hunters will receive a free PNG Hunters wristband. Gates open at 12.30pm with the main game to kick off at 5.30pm.