PNG in International Cup Grand Final

PNG Mosquitoes into International Cup Grand Final

 

The PNG Mosquitoes won their way into their fifth consecutive AFL International Cup Grand Final with surprise victory over the New Zealand Hawks today at Royal Park in Melbourne.

 

The International Cup is a triennial event conducted by the AFL since 2002, and this year a record number of 18 nations from Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Pacific have participated. A women’s division involving five nations and seven teams (two each from Canada and the United States) has also been conducted, and will culminate in a grand final on Saturday afternoon at Punt Road, Richmond (2.10pm).

 

Pre-competition favourites in the men’s competition were the Ireland Warriors, New Zealand Hawks and the PNG Mosquitoes. PNG’s road to Saturday evening’s MCG grand final (4.50pm) was thrown into doubt when they were surprised by the South African Lions in the preliminary rounds. A curious round robin format saw the Mosquitoes sneak into fourth spot and a semi final encounter with the first ranked New Zealanders.

 

Windy and bleak conditions at the Royal Park Oval would have increased the confidence of the Hawks, who were well aware that a majority of the PNG squad was fresh from the 10 team Port Moresby competition that is normally played in 30-degree heat.

 

Adding to the challenges faced by the Papua New Guineans was the absence through injury and visa issues of their four most experienced players; all of whom have spent time at AFL clubs as international rookies (David Meli – Essendon; Peter Labi – Carlton; Donald Barry – Brisbane Lions; and Stanis Susuve – Gold Coast Suns). On a positive note, former Richmond (Gideon Simon) and Brisbane Lions (Brendan Beno) rookies were available.

 

PNG also boasts several younger players on scholarship to Australian clubs, with the list including: Alfonse Jambafuro (Campbelltown – Sydney Football League), Jeconiah Peni (Campbelltown – Sydney Football League), John James Lavai (Aspley – North Eastern Australian Football League), Scott Johnson (Carnington/Linton – Ballarat Football League), Michael Macca (Carnington/Linton), Jason So-ong (Carnington/Linton), and Theo Gavuri (Sydney Hills Eagles – North Eastern Australian Football League). Other PNG squad members who currently play in Australia are Greg Aki (Coolamon – Riverina Football League), Willie Asi (North Cairns – Cairns Australian Football League), and John Ikupu (West Coburg – Essendon Districts Football League). The remaining 18 players in their 30-man squad all play in the AFL Port Moresby competition.

 

PNG’s bigger and stronger opponents from New Zealand contained six players who are currently playing in Australia, with the remainder hailing from competitions based in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

 

New Zealand kicked with the aid of a three-goal breeze in the first quarter, but was held scoreless by a resilient and undersized PNG defence that was led by Greg Aki, Jeffrey Namete (Taurama Suns) and Greg Ekari (Bomana Cats). John James Lavai played a pivotal sweeping role, constantly rebounding, as the ball spent most of the first seven minutes in the New Zealand attacking half.

 

The Mosquitoes then caught the Hawks napping with a series of quick breaks that were engineered by PNG big man (186cms) John Ikupu, and busy on-baller Theo Gavuri. Amua Pirika was leading strongly from full forward, and was rewarded with two early quarter goals. PNG dominated the final 10 minutes of the first quarter and went to the break with 4.0.24 to 0.0.0 lead in spite of the considerable breeze.

 

New Zealand was shell-shocked by the Mosquitoes fierce start and superior pace when the ball was on the outside. The Mosquitoes attack on the ball was strong, and this continued during the second quarter, through the agency of the likes of Gideon Simon, Theo Gavuri and Alphonse Jambafuro. An ankle injury to key forward Amua Pirika took some potency out of the Mosquitoes forward line. The game appeared to be slipping away from the New Zealanders until this point, but an improved performance in the second half of the second quarter saw them go to the half time break still trailing by four goals: PNG 6.0 to New Zealand 2.2.

 

New Zealand’s third quarter was their best, as they threw everything at what appeared to be a tiring PNG outfit. The Mosquitoes Captain, John James Lavai, had until midway through the third quarter been the best player on the ground, but when he hobbled off with appeared to be a hamstring injury the Mosquitoes had lost their major playmaker. John Ikupu, however stood tall and worked relentlessly in the ruck and dropping back to assist defenders. One towering mark, when he was outnumbered three-to-one was a goal saver at a time when the pressure was mounting on his courageous defenders. Willie Asi was also working his way into the game, and he and Gideon Simon began to win numerous contested possessions. Greg Aki at full back, who was giving at least 5 inches to his opponent, continued to spoil and bustle, and compete to gain possession on the ground. His decision-making and composure were also first rate, and a major contributor to PNG going to the final break with 7.3.39 to 4.2.26 lead.

 

The wind had dropped by three quarter time, and so had the temperature. It seemed that the Melbourne weather and injuries were conspiring against a fifth grand final appearance for the Mosquitoes. But within minutes of the start of the last stanza Amua Pirika (recovered from what seemed like a serious ankle sprain) gathered the ball deep in the pocket, beat two opponents, and out sped two others to kick the goal of the day. Brendan Beno was becoming increasingly damaging on the wing, and he followed with a strong contested mark and a 40 metre goal from the boundary line. Young Kataha Siwee (17 years old) and Wingti Pena were also involving themselves, and their good work led to a 45 running goal to Theo Gavuri. More goals to Sunny Yogomin and John Ikupu, and the Mosquitoes had won their way to an MCG grand final against their 2011 nemesis, the Irish Warriors.

 

Papua New Guinea 12.3. 75 defeated New Zealand 4.4. 28

PNG Goalkickers: Pirika 3, Ikupu 2, Beno 2, So-ong, Siwee, Simon, Asi, Gavuri, Yogomin.

PNG Best: Ikupu, Simon, Aki, Gavuri, Asi, J.J. Lavai, Namete, Beno.

 

Comments

  1. GREAT to see the Mosquitoes in the granny, Murray
    I played Aussie Rules in Moresby briefly in the Sixties before turning to the typewriter.
    Writing about sport, rugby league mainly, was my go. More so than turning out on the footy oval
    Incidentally, I saw a quarter and a bit of last Sat. night’s game in Central Victoria: Nauru v Ireland.
    Pretty good standard. Nauru kicked the first 2 goals using the breeze but Ireland — a much taller outfit — won the game.

  2. I could make NicNait available for you in the final, Murray. Don’t know that he would be much help.
    Best of luck against the Irish.

  3. Peter Fuller says

    Thanks Murray for this good summary of the semi-final, and useful context.
    Just a pedantic point: you have three of the PNG scholarship players at a club which should read Carngham (not Carnington)-Linton. Although they are in the vicinity of Ballarat they play in the lower level Lexton-Plains FL, rather than the Ballarat League.

  4. david bridie says

    thanks for the report Murray.Watched the game as well.PNG had more pace and bluster .Tomorrows GF should be interesting.The Irish side are giants,the majority of PNG’s side are pacey 5ft 5 highlanders .The vast MCG may suit them

  5. Murray Bird says

    Yes they are pacey … Apologies to Carngham … I know the club looks after the boys well …. The team comes from all over PNG but all are now in Port Moresby or Australia Gideon Simon and Greg Aki from Highlands …. Theo Gavuri and Emmanuel Tupia from West New Britain … John and Max Lavai from the Gulf … Scott Johnson from Lae

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