2016 was again, a year of firsts – through the SP Export Rugby Championships with both a Sevens and Fifteens format, provincial rugby was reintroduced; a platform which elevated provincial talent from relative obscurity, to having a crack at a national jersey.
The most notable achievement for the Men’s National Teams however, the inaugural participation of the Pukpuks in a tier-2 tournament at the Hong Kong Cup of Nations this year.
The tier-two competition is a step-up from PNG’s FORU cup level, that allowed PNG to play against World Cup playing sides such as Russia and Hong Kong.
Whilst the side lost all three of their matches, beginning with hosts Hong Kong, followed by a bruising encounter against Zimbabwe, they impressed against Russia, stalling the Russian attack, and even running in two tries.
Coach Sydney Wesley however, has been more realistic in his assessment of a team, slowly getting exposed to international rugby.
“The tournament was of high quality; a lot tougher than the FORU Cup last year. Because of the fact that a couple of these teams have been playing in this tournament and at this level for a couple of years; they pretty much stand a better chance at making it to Japan,” Wesley said.
With the national teams now, appearing more than ever before on the international stage, the governing body should now look at 2017, as an opportunity to better the fields they’ve lacked this year, particularly in a high performance division, which will enable the Pukpuks to match the game played at a higher level, much like the Cup of Nations and others, should they wish to come close to a World Cup qualification.