One of the game’s great characters, Stanley Gene, spoke to me after the 2008 World Cup draw that saw his PNG side pitted in the new ‘Super Group’ with Australia, New Zealand and England. Despite the initial uproar, Gene pointed out the advantages to the Kumuls and was proved right as they performed superbly in the tournament.
IN the aftermath of the World Cup draw, Papua New Guinea emerged as the early headline makers.
After collecting much public sympathy, their unofficial spokesman Marcus Bai, appeared to threaten a boycott of the tournament. The Kumuls have been placed in the ‘Super Group’ with Australia, New Zealand and England, with the top three placed teams winning places in the semi-finals.
“They have to change it and if they don’t, we won’t come,’ said the former Melbourne, Leeds and Bradford winger. “We will ring up the other island nations and teams elsewhere who don’t qualify and we can have our own competition.
“They have shown no respect for our country or for our efforts to promote the game up there.”
However, Kumuls legend Stanley Gene told Rugby League World that he opposed Bai’s controversial stance and that he can’t wait for the tournament to begin.
“Marcus came up with some bullshit without thinking what’s going to happen after the World Cup,” said Gene.
“We’ll get a lot of exposure and make some money out of the tournament which is fantastic because there are players back home who struggle to pay their registration fees and can barely afford to buy boots.
“It’s a positive thing and we’re happy with the challenge. Rugby League is the number one sport in Papua New Guinea and we have a fantastic history and tradition. I can’t wait for the World Cup. We should have a competitive side and we’ll be looking to spring a surprise or two. Rugby is full of surprises so we’ll have to wait and see.”
Gene came to prominence during the successful 1995 World Cup, starring in a thrilling 28-28 draw with Tonga at Hull, where he formed a threatening halfback partnership with Adrian Lam. Both players scored tries in that game before the Kumuls went down 22-6 to New Zealand. On the back of his performances, he was signed to play for Hull Kingston Rovers and began a successful career in England that has seen him also play for Hull, Huddersfield and Bradford before returning to Hull KR this season.
“The 1995 competition was fantastic for us and obviously great for me but in 2000, we did even better. We won our group by beating France, South Africa and Tonga before losing in the quarter-finals to Wales despite our second half comeback.”
The players returned as heroes to Papua New Guinea with a National Holiday being declared on their homecoming. If the Kumuls can just win one of their ‘Super Group’ matches in 2008, the celebrations back home will surpass anything ever seen. A jet-lagged England, in their opening game, will be well within their sights.