by Jeremy Mogi – EM TV Sport, Port Moresby
For the first time in history Papua New Guinea will have two sides competing in the Oceania Champions League, following the announcement that both NSL grand final winners, Lae City Dwellers, and minor premiers Hekari United will both compete.
Hekari have been in the region’s biggest competition for 10 years, while Lae City will make their debut.
Lae City created their own brand of history by becoming the first club in 10 years to claim the NSL crown, after then-defending champions Hekari had been ousted in a tough semi-final encounter against Madang.
Lae City’s rise to the top was all the more fascinating since the club had only been recently formed and debuted in the NSL the same year.
Hekari on the other hand have risen to the pinnacle of the Oceania Champions League. In 2010, they became the first non-New Zealand side to represent Oceania at the World Club Championship.
The club, managed by Vonnie Kapi Natto, has been there before and with a young squad for the new season, has stated that this year is going to be another big challenge.
Hekari have experience playing abroad, although for a number of years, Kapi Natto and her husband John had been pushing for another team to join them in the big event. That opportunity is now set in stone, with the advent of Lae City Dwellers.
It is something not lost on Lae coach, Peter Gunemba, who believes his team has as much to offer as any other club in the Pacific.
Many of the Lae City Dwellers will have a brand new experience playing in the Champions League, and while very few clubs have succeeded in winning the competition in their debut season, the club from PNG’s second city will be banking on the experience of captain, Raymond Gunemba, and striker Nigel DAbinyaba.
Regardless of the result that both clubs may achieve, once the Oceania Champions League kicks off in 2016, two clubs and not one, have the potential to raise the profile of football in Papua New Guinea, and deservedly so.