Jillaroos' historic PNG visit a vehicle for change

Jillaroos' historic PNG visit a vehicle for change

As a proud Papua New Guinean woman who represented her country of birth in rugby sevens, Amelia Kuk understands the cultural significance of the Jillaroos' historic visit this weekend better than most.

For the first time a Jillaroos squad will travel with the Prime Minister's XIII to play at Port Moresby's National Football Stadium on Sunday but it represents far more than an opportunity for the women's game to spread further its wings.

This is a chance for the women of Papua New Guinea to break through the constraints of the past and take their place alongside men on sport's global stage.

Two years ago Kuk was travelling from Brisbane to PNG in order to play alongside her countrywomen for the national rugby sevens team and now returns as a member of the Australian women's rugby league team.

Six girls will represent the Jillaroos for the first time on Sunday and while it is not considered a full-blooded Test does give them a wonderful platform from which to state their case for inclusion in the final squad to contest the Rugby League Women's World Cup in Sydney in November.

The PNG Orchids will make their World Cup debut against England on November 16 but according to Kuk the momentum for major change in her country starts this weekend.

"Women's footy is kind of pushed to the side and it comes back to the cultural stuff because where I come from, the woman are meant to stay at home and cook and clean and stuff so if you're a girl who plays rugby, it's kind of frowned upon," Kuk told NRL.com.

"The PNG girls are working really, really hard to change that mindset, that typical PNG mentality of women and what they are supposed to do. It's really, really good to see.

"It's that cultural thing where they don't want to support women's footy because they don't think that they should be playing footy, that they should be home looking after the kids or something.

"And they're not just facing another country, it's Australia. It's one of the top countries in the world so to have them come to our country will bring a lot of exposure and get out in the media.

"If we were able to change the PNG people's mentality that would be really good to see."

The opportunity for the Jillaroos to play alongside the PM's XIII this weekend was brought about in no small part by a partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The PM's XIII will wear on the front of their jersey the message of showing respect to women and for Jillaroos coach Brad Donald showcasing women's rugby league to a rabid rugby league nation is only going to fast-track that messaging.

"It's more than just a game of footy for us and for them. It's us helping send that message," Donald said.

"It's us helping uplift their women and uplift the game in Papua New Guinea.

"Part of the messaging that goes around the Prime Minister's team is having respect for women so when the opportunity with DFAT came up to take the girls over there and help spread that message that we can help empower women through sport we obviously jumped at it."

Although she admits the loyalties of her parents who will fly over from Brisbane for the game and family in Moresby and in the PNG highlands in Mount Hagen who will also be in attendance may be tested, Kuk is confident she will have their support.

"They'll be supporting me because I'm their family and they have to!" was her reasoning.

As for the support of the other thousands of people who will cram into the National Football Stadium, Kuk knows that the Jillaroos will have an extra opponent that they will have to overcome.

"It will be so physical. I know when we played there for the Pacific Games at the home ground what got us over the line was the crowd," said Kuk, who was a member of the Ipswich Brothers team that went down to Burleigh in the SEQ Women's A Grade grand final last weekend.

"We were playing against all the Pacific nations but we had a huge crowd there and every hit and every run that any of the PNG girls took, the whole crowd got behind them.

"Coming from PNG I know if I see my family in the grandstands and they're getting behind me I take my game up to a whole other level.

"There's a fire in you that comes alive because you are so passionate about your country and where you come from.

"I know those PNG girls are really passionate about their country so they'll be giving everything they have.

"We'll be expecting a really physical game on the weekend."