Hunter Stargroth's life dream becomes reality
"My mind told me to run but my feet couldn't do it. I was really isolated. It was like being paralysed. I couldn't run. I couldn't even walk."
PNG Kumuls winger Stargroth Amean is about to achieve a life dream, one he once thought may never happen due to serious injuries.
A product of rugby league-mad nation Papua New Guinea – the only country on earth to call rugby league its national sport – Amean has held two lifelong goals. One is to become a doctor. The other is to represent his country in rugby league.
This Saturday, one of those dreams comes true, and you'd be a fool to think the University of Papua New Guinea science student won't make the other a reality.
Despite being arguably the most excellently-named man ever to lace on a boot, Amean is many other things.
He is a triumph of determination; a heart-warming example of persistence and hard work paying off; he is a science student and future medical student. He has shaken off serious injuries that threatened his playing career.
He is also named after an obscure Spanish actor, in case you were wondering.
Speaking to NRL.com days before his long-awaited and much-desired Test debut, the 25-year-old fullback or winger spoke frankly of the injuries that put him out of the game for a year and took an emotional toll, as well as of his pride in having achieved one of his life's goals.
"I've been chasing this jersey for five years now, to play for PNG," Amean said, standing on the Pirtek Stadium turf for the captains' and coaches' call ahead of this weekend's Pacific double header at the venue.
"It's an honour to represent my family and my countrymen back in PNG. It's a big privilege for me. They really love it there, it's the national sport in PNG so to represent my country is a big deal."
Amean – who played for the PNG Hunters in Queensland's Intrust Super Cup last season – said Hunters players are recognised in their homeland the same way NRL stars are here, with the kids who follow the game knowing all the players by name.
"We're well known back in PNG, all the boys, all the kids growing up, they know all the boys. Individually, the names and everything, just like the NRL boys here, back in PNG is the same with Hunters," he said.
He spoke of his struggle to come back from two serious ankle injuries through several changes of scenery over the past five years.
"I'd been playing for the local comp back in PNG, the Digicel Cup. I made my debut with Hela Wigmen and then in 2012 I went to join the Port Moresby Vipers and then I dislocated both my ankles."
And that puts a hell of a full stop on a rugby league career. Those injuries happened a season apart and would present a huge hurdle for any young man to return from.
"I dislocated my right ankle in 2011 so when I was running in 2012 I was putting all the weight on my left leg. Then when I dislocated my left ankle I couldn't use both my legs, so I stayed out of the game in 2013 and concentrated on my recovery," he said.
"In 2013 I was out. I couldn't run, or even walk a long distance."
It was a challenging time and Amean said he turned to his faith for help in healing both physically and mentally.
"I went to see the physios but they couldn't help me out; I couldn't walk. So I went to this pastor who prayed for me and it got better.
"In 2014 and I came back and played for the Vipers and then in 2015 I made my debut for the Hunters. Then this year, I came back, played for the Hunters and now I'm here with the Kumuls."
Amean admits it was "a really tough time emotionally".
"Watching small kids play touch rugby, I really envied them, seeing them running around. My mind told me to run but my feet couldn't do it. I was really isolated. It was like being paralysed. I couldn't run. I couldn't even walk."
One small advantage of such a tough period was being able to focus more on his studies, which have taken a back seat over the past two seasons as his footy career has been resurrected.
"Last year and this year with the Hunters I haven't concentrated on school a lot, I've concentrated on the game so I'm thinking of going back next year for the following year to complete my schooling. I'm thinking of picking up medicine. I've got one year in science before I stream to medicine," he said.
"Growing up, I had a couple of goals in life and this is one of them – representing my country. The other one is doing medicine. Now I'm achieving one of them I look forward to the next one.
"I want to achieve everything that I can in this lifetime."
And we couldn't finish up without asking him how he came to have such a memorable name.
"Stargroth?" he laughed.
"When my mum was young, during her teenage years she used to admire a Spanish actor whose name was Stargroth. She said when she has her first born baby boy she would call him Stargroth so that's how I got it."
NRL.com has scoured the internet with little success for evidence of this actor but it's probably fitting that the man simply called "Star" by his teammates is the only Stargroth anyone in this neck of the woods has ever heard of. You'll be hearing a bit more of him no doubt.