Like most young Papuans, Justin Olam spent his weekends in front of a television watching his heroes duke it out in the NRL.
Thousands of locals still flock to the nearest screen whenever a game is on, but there’s a new champion in town for them to support.
Hailing from the mountainous Highlands in PNG, Olam grew up like everyone else, with a passion for rugby league.
Using discarded plastic bottles as footballs, he spent every spare second replaying what he’d seen on TV earlier that day, never thinking he’d one day get the chance to strut his stuff with a Steeden in the NRL.
“Back in the village where I come from, not everyone has a TV so you had to find a house that had one and watch it that way,” Olam explains.
“But it’s not just the NRL which inspires us. Rugby league is our life, it’s always on in the background. We’d play in the village, we’d play at school, we’d play when there was nothing to do.”
After getting his first crack with the PNG Hunters in the Queensland Cup, Olam was picked up by the Storm at the end of the 2016 season as a raw talent who could add depth to their backline.
Impressive performances for feeder side Sunshine Coast Falcons saw him earn a shock NRL debut against the Dragons in round nine last year.
He doesn’t come across as a typical Storm player, but his rawness has been infectious, he trusts his edge in defence and he’s shown a willingness to do anything for the team.
Olam’s work ethic goes far deeper than just rugby league – in fact it goes well below the earth’s surface.
“I’ve got a degree in applied physics, specialising in electronics and instrumentation. I finished the degree in 2015, graduated in 2016 and was playing for PNG Hunters that year,” he says.
“Most of my classmates who graduated with me are working in the mines as electrical engineers and mechanical engineers, so it’s a broad degree.
"The physics part of it means you can do seismic calculations for earthquakes, land destruction testing and anything like that. But I’m just focused on footy.
“I still don’t believe that I’m part of the team, but my mentality is to just do my job. I don’t panic or have high expectations of myself.
"The Storm don’t want you to go out there and be a hero with big plays – they just want you to do your job well and I’m content with that approach.”
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