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How the PNG Hunters brought together a politically divided nation

Coming off the back of an election marred by the deaths of two policemen, several supporters and the destruction of millions of kina worth of property, many Papua New Guineans expressed that they felt misrepresented by their leaders.

Days before, the PNG hunters ran on to the field to take on the Sunshine Coast Falcons, there was news again on the media of the sale of petroleum shares that, according to analysts, had cost the PNG government huge losses.

The dust kicked up by turbulent economic and political time was one aspect of life that many wished would at least settle quickly. While that was ongoing, Papua New Guineans found clarity in one thing – the PNG Hunter’s prospects of winning the Intrust Super Cup Grand final against the Falcons.

The national sport, rugby league has long been both a uniting and dividing force. ‘The fanaticism for rugby league is rivaled only by that of PNG politics,’ a statement coined by an Australian journalist, still rings true an every sense. With successive losses, over 40 years, many had become skeptical of any success on the international stage.

But this time, the possibility of a win was real.

The hype was building up. Even the NCD Governor, Powes Parkop, was willing to spend K75,000 on subsidising air travel for those going to Australia for the game.

I was among the many skeptics. Even with the successful run of the PNG Hunters over the last four years, through the hard work of coach Michael Marum, the players and the sponsors, there was still doubt.

By the 75th minute, it was down to PNG’s tenacity and passion. Could the psychologically defeating lead by the Falcons, dampen the spirits of the Hunters?

Everyone watched as the precious minutes ticked by. The energy wasn’t depleted…Or at least it didn’t show.

The Hunter’s defense was tight.

Then the 78th minute came. Nobody expected any magic until Ase Boas kicked the ball.

Wapenamanda, Enga province, where Willie Minoga’s family was watching exploded with celebration as the Freight Train crashed through and landed on the ball.

In Port Moresby, Lae, Mt. Hagen and every major center with television overage, the celebrations were similar. Ethnic, political and economic divisions were all thrown to the ground and stomped on as people celebrated the victory. All that didn’t matter any more as people came together because of rugby league.

Ase Boas then took over, kicking the ball in between the posts to score the winning conversion. The Hunters had taken the Intrust Super Cup and a country had been united.

It was all that mattered.

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