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Olam, Coates and Johnston lead stacked Kumuls, but settled halves might be the key


Papua New Guinea are basically everyone’s second team. If you don’t agree…well, I don’t know what to say. They’re great fun, they love the game, they play hard and fast. It’s everything we like to see in international footy.

They’re really good, too. The Kumuls smashed a stacked Fiji side in the Pacific Tests, and that was without a few key names.

They have lost talisman David Mead since, but will maintain a serious roster, add a few UK-based names into the mix and, crucially, keep up their cohesion and continuity.

Let’s not beat around the bush. PNG have a major structural advantage because the core of their side come from the Hunters in the Queensland Cup, and in rep footy, there’s no substitute for guys that play together every week.

There’s no sub for real halves, either, and that was the secret sauce in their victory over the Bati. If you take a core from the Hunters, add a settled pairing at 6 and 7, then sprinkle on a little star power, you’re in for a decent squad.

PNG have a decent enough draw as well. They start with a blockbuster in St Helens against Tonga: two major nations in a rugby league heartland, stadium packed with footy diehards, Monday night on national telly…inject this to my veins right now.

Whoever wins that night will likely top the group, as Wales and the Cook Islands are a few rungs down the ladder quality-wise.

Group C then plays off with Group A – England and Samoa, most likely – so you could see a Tonga v Samoa in the quarters and a PNG v England too. Wow. Get me on the plane.

Certainties

The list of certainties is long, because PNG are so settled. Justin Olam, obviously, is their star man, with Alex Johnston likely to feature at fullback and Xavier Coates on a wing. No lack of firepower, then.

The halves are settled, as Kyle Laybutt and Lachlan Lam have been alongside each other for the last few years.

Their standouts in the Pacific Tests were McKenzie Yei and Nixon Putt: close your eyes and imagine a PNG backrower, and it’ll look like those two.

Rhyse Martin missed that fixture as he is based in the Super League with Leeds, but will certainly play and likely at lock. He’ll kick their goals, too. London Broncos prop Wellington Albert will also get the nod.

Edwin Ipape is tearing it up with runaway leaders Leigh in the English second grade, and he’ll likely go in at hooker, while his teammate Nene Macdonald will be picked too – likely in the centres. He played 80% of his NRL games on the wing, but most of the rest one man in.

(Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Probables 

Ok, let’s get into the Hunters. They’ve had a poor season in the Q Cup, but will still contribute plenty of personnel.

Solo Wane on the wing, Emmanuel Waine and Sylvester Namo in the middle rotation, Sherwin Tanabi as a backrow option and Dilbert Isaac, who missed a chunk of the season with an ankle injury but returned in August.

From elsewhere in the Q Cup, Edene Gebbie is now at Townsville Blackhawks and will compete for a backline role, Dan Russell is at Easts Tigers and could go into either the back row or the centres. Epil Kapinias of Wynnum Manly started against the Fijians at prop and should again.

Other second grade stars include Bulldogs playmaker Bailey Biondi-Odo and James Segeyaro, now in the Manly system, are 9 options.

Jacob Alick is yet to make his NRL bow at the Titans, but has appeared regularly for Easts Tigers and made his PNG debut in the Pacific Tests.

Xavier Coates of the Broncos.

Xavier Coates of the Broncos. – for now. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Possibles

Watson Boas is a stalwart but has now dropped into the third tier of English footy, so isn’t the automatic pick that he once was. You’d back him to make it, however.

Robert Derby is in the Cowboys system and provides backline depth, as will Ragarive Wawik, who played U-19s Origin for Queensland.

Wartovo Puara is the Hunters hooker and has been picked in the past, but with Biondi-Odo and Segeyaro now available, it remains to be seen if he’ll go. Liam Horne at Norths Devils is in the same boat.

Fellow Hunter Benji Kot is exciting, but has falled out of favour in the Q Cup, as has Cruise Ten of Souths Logan Magpies. Fullback Terry Wapi was also benched by the Hunters.

Fijian forward Viliame Kikau of Fiji is tackled by the Papua New Guinean defence.
(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Predicted PNG squad

1 Alex Johnston
2 Xavier Coates
3 Justin Olam
4 Nene Macdonald
5 Solo Wane
6 Kyle Laybutt
7 Lachlan Lam
8 Epel Kapinias
9 Edwin Ipape
10 Wellington Albert
11 Nixon Putt
12 Dan Russell
13 Rhyse Martin
14 Bailey Biondi-Odo
15 McKenzie Yei
16 Wellington Albert
17 Jacob Alick
18 Dilbert Isaac
19 Ragarive Wawik
20 Sherwin Tanabi
21 Robert Derby
22 Edene Gebbie
23 James Segeyaro
24 Watson Boas





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