'We can make a difference': New film captures PNG Orchids' road to World Cup

Behind the emotion of Papua New Guinea's inclusion for the 2017 women's Rugby League World Cup, a far greater story was being told.

Power Meri has taken the Pacific by storm and is set to reach Australian shores for screening in March.

The film captures the journey of Papua New Guinea's first national women's team, the Orchids, on route to the World Cup, and explores how rugby league is changing lives and mindsets in PNG.

Australia's nearest neighbour, human rights organisations have described PNG as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman.

But where international observers see despair, the pioneering players of the country's newest team see opportunity.

Rugby league is the number one sport in PNG and Broncos centre Amelia Kuk, a proud Papua New Guinean based in Brisbane, believes the film can bridge the gender gap in a nation considered one of the most intimidating in the world for females.

"Women can do anything the guys can do, if not better," Kuk said. "This film will help change mindsets and give girls a voice and I'm sure everyone will relate to it one way or another.

"It's important for PNG because we still have the typical mindset of how men are more important or better than women. It's time to wake up and realise that everyone has equal opportunities regardless of gender.

"Everything in this film is raw and real. That's what makes it so unique and powerful. And through the power of rugby league, we can make a difference."

Papua New Guinea fans.
Papua New Guinea fans.

The film was released last October and has received positive responses from current and former NRL players in the game, along with those with non-rugby league backgrounds. 

More than 400 people viewed the film at the International Oceania Film Festival in Tahiti, while the documentary is also expected to be used across NRL clubs and in schools in 2019.

Organisers of the next RLWC in 2021 have also offered to support a release of the film across the UK as early as March this year.

The film's director Joanna Lester encouraged the public from all backgrounds and regardless of their rugby league knowledge to get to a screening.

Lester has spent more than a decade in the Pacific as a journalist and broadcaster.

"I've always wanted to work in rugby league and PNG because there was so much potential," Lester said.

"There are so many social issues that rugby league has a lot of power there to send a message. The film became something I felt like I had to do when it came clear PNG would have a women's team.

"That was an opportunity to elevate a story on the impact women playing rugby league and the men and women around them. It was a combination of the social importance and the growing interest in women's sport.

The PNG Orchids.
The PNG Orchids.

"It was produced to a high quality. In terms of the access to the team and willingness, it was absolutely wonderful.

"We've had incredible reaction to the film internationally and been to festivals. I really feel that most people in the Australian rugby league community don't know the documentary is in the cinemas.

"We just hope to be able to show more people over the next few weeks." 

Power Meri is screening in cities around NRL clubs on Wednesday 6 March from 6:30pm local time.

Tickets must be purchased online by Sunday 24 February for all NSW and QLD screenings (and by 12pm on Friday 22 February for Melbourne and Canberra screenings), while a limit overall needs to be reached for the film to be shown in your area. More details here