PNG positioned to make World Cup statement
Papua New Guinea are poised to take advantage of improved development pathways and an historic hosting of World Cup matches to re-emerge as a force on the international rugby league scene according to Kumuls captain David Mead.
Mead will represent PNG and the Broncos when he makes his first appearance for the World All Stars against the Indigenous All Stars in Newcastle on February 10 where he will be joined by fellow Kumul and former Titan Nene MacDonald.
The pair were both part of PNG's stirring 24-22 win over Fiji in the Pacific Test earlier this year and will be key figures in the country's bid to progress beyond the group stages of a Rugby League World Cup for the first time since 2000.
Winless in their past six matches in World Cup competition, the Kumuls will host Wales, Ireland and the United States in their three pool matches in Port Moresby and have a growing base of players attached to NRL clubs from which to choose from.
Kato Ottio was Canberra's representative at the recent launch of the Downer NRL Auckland Nines, Justin Olam has signed to play with the Melbourne Storm and Rod Griffin was rewarded with a contract extension at the Wests Tigers.
It is this experience along with the introduction of the PNG Hunters to Queensland's Intrust Super Cup that Mead believes will transfer to Kumul success in late 2017.
"It's fantastic for the country," Mead said of PNG players being signed to NRL clubs.
"Obviously we want to get more players playing at NRL level and getting that experience and taking it back to the country and helping out the other guys that haven't played NRL yet.
"It certainly helps the team. The more experienced players you get in there the simpler your job gets so it's pretty important you get more players at that level.
"It's the national sport over there so any player that gets the chance to play at a higher level and take it back to the country is always a bonus.
"Having the Hunters playing in the Queensland Cup and doing the travelling and all the training week in, week out certainly helps more of the players over there.
"They can get more exposure and hopefully some players can go on and play NRL in the near future."
Frustrated by the direction the sport was going in PNG in the wake of the 2008 World Cup, Mead threatened to walk away from the national team but in recent years has been one of its most important servants.
He captained his country for the first time this year in the win over Fiji and knows how important 2017 shapes as being for the game in PNG.
"It's going to be pretty important having the three games there for the World Cup and if there is a Test in the middle of the year it will be a pretty big year for PNG," Mead told NRL.com.
"They've obviously got the Hunters there as well who are pretty keen to play finals footy again this year so it's a pretty big year or the country and hopefully we get some results.
"Every game that we're playing in we want to be competing to the best of our ability.
"If we have more players that are getting experience at a higher level that helps our chances of progressing as a country and moving forward in the sport of rugby league."
As for his maiden All Stars appearance, Mead said he was honoured to take part in a concept that was the brainchild of former Titans team-mate Preston Campbell.
"I've always wanted to be a part of it. It's a great concept that Presto came up with a fair few years back and it's been a great way to celebrate the game and the Indigenous community," said Mead, who spent the first 12 years of his life in PNG.
"It's good to have players from other countries coming together to play for the one team and represent their nations.
"Obviously Nene and I are representing PNG and hopefully we'll go out there and make PNG proud."