Melbourne centre Justin Olam is fronting a COVID-19 vaccination campaign in his native Papua New Guinea and wants to take on a similar leadership role with the Kumuls at the World Cup.
Olam, who hopes fellow NRL stars Jack de Belin, Xavier Coates and Alex Johnston will commit to the Kumuls for the World Cup, has recorded a series of videos encouraging Papua New Guineans to follow COVID-safe practices and get immunised.
The PNGRL has also launched a vaccination campaign for players in the local Digicel Cup competition and it is expected the Kumuls squad will have the opportunity to be immunised before leaving for the World Cup, if it goes ahead as planned in October.
“The government is definitely pushing it,” Olam said. “They are trying to get people vaccinated.
“There are some conspiracies about why they don’t want to get it so I made a few videos to try and encourage the local citizens up there to understand the importance of the vaccine.
“It is hard to social distance up there because a lot of our families are living together. At the moment they are doing good so hopefully it stays that way.”
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Born and raised in PNG’s Highlands region, Olam’s involvement in the vaccination campaign promoted by Nasfund and the Lae Chamber of Commerce and Industry is an indication of the 27-year-old’s standing in his homeland.
Olam also wants to inspire the nation by helping the Kumuls to success at the end-of-season World Cup in England and the 2020 NRL premiership winner believes he can play a leadership role for the team, which is set to be dominated by players from the PNG Hunters.
“I haven’t played for the Kumuls for almost two years now so I miss pulling on the Kumuls jumper and I can’t wait for the World Cup,” Olam said on Wednesday.
“I know all the local boys because I understand them so when I get to the camp I try to lead by example, because they aren’t a lot on talking. The boys at home follow who does the actions. This is my contribution to the leadership group, I guess.”
PNG’s last Test was a 28-10 triumph over Great Britain in Port Moresby at the end of the 2019 season and the Michael Marum-coached team featured Johnston at fullback, with Olam and David Mead in the centres.
Former Canterbury forward Rhyse Martin, who now plays for Leeds, was captain and Olam said he expects him to retain the job, but wants to do whatever he can to ensure the Kumuls have a successful World Cup campaign.
Coates, who will play alongside at Olam at the Storm next season, made his Test debut for the Kumuls in 2019, while de Belin’s grandmother was born in Papua New Guinea and he has indicated his interest in representing the Kumuls at the World Cup.
“It would really mean a lot for us if Xavier would come with his talent. That would definitely boost our squad,” Olam said.
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“I hear that Jack de Belin is eligible for PNG. If he wants to play for us I am sure the boys would love to play with him with his skills and his experience.”
De Belin flagged the possibility of representing his PNG heritage at the World Cup in an interview for dragons.com.au last month.
“My Nan was born there so I have been eligible to play for them and when Adrian Lam was my under-20s coach [at St George Illawarra in 2011], he was also the Papua New Guinea coach and he was trying to coax me into playing for them,” de Belin said.
“At the time I wasn’t ready, but you never know.”
An announcement is expected to be made on Thursday about the World Cup, which includes men's, women's and wheelchair tournaments.
PNG's first match is against Tonga at St Helens on October 26, and they are also drawn to play the Cook Islands and Wales in pool matches.