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Papua New Guinea's 2006 Nationals in Lae

  • Thursday, April 27 2006 @ 02:13 am ACST
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Oceania

The 2006 National Championships for senior footy in PNG will be held on June 10th to 12th in Lae. Expected to attend are representative squads from the leagues in Lae, National Capital District (Port Moresby), Western Highlands Province (Mt Hagen), Eastern Highlands Province (Goroka), West New Britain (Kimbe, Hoskins), East New Britain (Rabaul, Pomio) and Buka. Runners-up at the International Cups of 2002 and 2005, the strong PNG leagues should see some great action. WFN speaks with PNG footy legend Peter Michael, father of champion Brisbane Lions fullback Mal.

The 2006 AFL PNG National Championships will be held in Lae during the Queen’s Birthday weekend, with matches at the Eriku oval. Lae is considered the most central location hence the ongoing staging of the championships there. Australian Football in PNG has a long history, but only recently has the highly successful AFL-PNG junior program gathered momentum. At the senior level the game is primarily organised separately by the AFL PNG Rules Council, though these organisations appear to be more closely aligned these days.

As with all the amateur footy leagues around the world, picking a favourite can be difficult, with player availability not always obvious as issues such as fees become problems. All being equal, NCD will be the main fancies, followed by West New Britain, Lae and the Western Highlands. It's hoped that after a four year absence the troubled Buka (Bougainville) region will return. NCD were the winners in 2004 (see National Capital District crowned PNG champions) while in 2005 there was no tournament as the focus was on the International Cup.

The Nationals are an important part of the football calendar with prize money and national selection on the line. Sponsors such as SP Brewery, Shorncliffe PNG Ltd, Coca-Cola Amatil and Arnott’s Biscuits have also been vital for the event to go ahead.

Another common story around the world is the lack of volunteer time to further develop leagues. Although junior numbers are booming in PNG, no new senior leagues have been started for several years. President of the AFL PNG Rules Council is Peter Michael, father of Mal Michael, one of the AFL's premier fullbacks for many years. A civil engineer with SMEC, Peter is involved with an AusAID program building roads and bridges in the developing nation just off Australia's northern coast. Previously based in Port Moresby, he now works in Wewak, in the East Sepik Province, where there is no senior league, but Peter already spends long hours in the running of the sport. With his base and family in Brisbane, Peter worries about how the game can move forward at adult level with only volunteers such as himself, and the sport cries out for a full-time professional to help it take another step forward. Let's hope with the brilliant form of their youngsters (more on that in a later article) the necessary funding can be found. With a fast growing population already over 5 million people and a junior pathways program to the Cairns AFL just a few hundred kilometres south, the potential for international draftees to AFL clubs has never been greater. In which case the people of PNG will clearly deserve a successful senior competition for the vast majority who like most of us, don't make it to the big time but love the game just as much if not more.

All the centres mentioned above can be seen on this more detailed map - as can Australia's Cape York (including Cairns) and the troubled country of the Solomon Islands to PNG's east.