- "We play for them, when we run, when we tackle, when we do everything that day, we do it for 8 million people," Ase Boas
The PNG Hunters only joined the Queensland Cup in 2014 and will play in their first grand final this coming Sunday in Brisbane against the Sunshine Coast Falcons.
The team dominated the Queensland state competition, winning the minor premiership and captain Ase Boas the best and fairest.
Boas said the team already felt like winners before the grand final.
“[It will be our] first time running out [on Lang Park] and making history for a PNG team to run out there,” he said.
“My feeling is that it’s a great achievement for me to make it to the grand final and running out, leading the team out will be a great feeling that day.”
Despite finishing strongly in previous seasons, the Hunters have bombed out in their finals appearances.
Their victory in a home semi-final triggered frenzied celebrations in Port Moresby’s National Football Stadium.
The Hunters were brought in to the Queensland Cup to develop Papua New Guinean players and the sport’s administration, looking towards the PNG dream of a side in the National Rugby League competition.
The Queensland Rugby League’s head of football, Neil Wharton, said it has been a success so far.
“There are certainly a number of athletes in the set up at the moment that if they are given the right opportunity they could come into the NRL system,” he said.
“I think it’s an exciting time for the Hunters.”
Hunters Exceed Cup Expectations
The Hunters aren’t the first Papua New Guinean team to play in Queensland’s league.
The Port Moresby Vipers left the competition in 1997, having struggled on and off the field.
Hunters coach Michael Marum was in that Vipers side and said some people didn’t expect the new PNG team to do much better.
“A lot of people wrote us off,” he said.
“They thought we were going to drop out of the eight in our first year — we made the six.
“In our second year we finished second, third year we finished fourth and this year we finished [number] one.
“For a young team, that’s a big achievement.
“We look at our past and we are fortunate to have some of things the Vipers didn’t have at that time.”
PNG still has passion for Rugby League
One thing that hasn’t changed is Papua New Guinea’s love of rugby league.
Boas said the team knows just how much Papua New Guineans care about Sunday’s grand final.
“We play for them, when we run, when we tackle, when we do everything that day, we do it for 8 million people,” he said.
“Knowing that it’s not ourselves out there that day, but it’s all the people of Papua New Guinea are backing us, we’re going there for this country and we’re going to play for them.”
If the Hunters win, their journey won’t be over.
They’ll play the winner of the New South Wales competition, in yet another match that’s sure to stop a nation.