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'Take a piece of PNG away with you': Cronulla's Kokoda inspiration

Cronulla Sharks coach John Morris urged his players to "take a piece of PNG away with you" from the trip for their historic match against Canterbury in Port Moresby.

Visits to the Bomana War Cemetery and Port Moresby General Hospital were among the activities that provided Sharks players and staff with a fresh perspective on life.

On match eve, Sharks and Bulldogs players travelled together to the cemetery outside Port Moresby where 3355 Australians killed during World War II are buried.

Morris later showed his young squad a short video from the Beyond Kokoda documentary.

"I don't like comparing footy to war because it is not even close to it but what I want you to take away from this experience is that sense of teamwork, sacrifice and the values of these young men who fought for our country so that we can all be here today," Morris said.

Cronulla players in Port Moresby.
Cronulla players in Port Moresby. ©sharks.com.au

"If you can take a little bit out of that mindset and apply it to what we are about we are going to be better people for it and a much stronger team."

After watching the video, the players spoke about the four core values of Kokoda: Courage, Endurance, Mateship and Sacrifice.

The final scene in the documentary, which featured Australian and Japanese survivors of the brutal war, was filmed at Bomana War Cemetery. The players also heard from cemetery curator Calum Howarth.

They were shocked to learn that many of those who had died in Papua New Guinea trying to prevent the Japanese from capturing Port Moresby and launching a possible invasion of Australia had been a similar age to them.

Sharks coach John Morris in Papua New Guinea.
Sharks coach John Morris in Papua New Guinea. ©sharks.com.au

"One thing that these guys did was turn them away, literally," Morris said at Friday night's team meeting before turning attention to rugby league. NRL.com was invited to attend.

"I don't care about the score, I only care about us. I care about our defensive effort and the commitment and energy we show on the field.

"It's been a long, long pre-season and the window is really small for us. For a lot of you guys in this room you only get one crack at it really, to hang onto that jumper to get another crack next week, or to at least put your best foot forward.

"I just want you to take the opportunity with a real strong team performance, that mateship we just heard about and that we witnessed today. It has been a real good trip and I want you to take a piece of PNG away with you."

After the visit to the Bomana cemetery, a group of Cronulla players and staff travelled to Port Moresby General Hospital to meet Dr Ian Nicholson, the 2016 NSW Australian of the Year, and a group of children as young as three who were recovering from open heart surgery.

Bulldogs visit Port Moresby General Hospital

Bulldogs players also visited the cardiac unit, which is run by Open Heart International, a Sydney-based humanitarian agency which provides surgical expertise in Pacific nations and other disadvantaged communities around the world.

While most of the activities involving the players were to promote the PacificAus Sports program or DFAT initiatives targeting social inclusion, participation, equality and health and well-being, the hospital visits were organised by the clubs.

The Sharks on their visit to Port Moresby General Hospital.
The Sharks on their visit to Port Moresby General Hospital.

"That was unbelievable boys, there were little kids playing soccer in the ward of the hospital who'd had open heart surgery and their parents were so happy," Morris said.

"I think the gratitude we have all picked up from this trip is what I am talking about."

While most of the activities involving the players were organised through the PacificAus Sports program to promote  Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) programs targeting social inclusion, participation, equality and health and well-being, the hospital visits were initiated by the clubs.