Today’s edition of ‘Starting XVII’ focuses on Papua New Guinea.
The Kumuls always seem to be a surprise package at the World Cup, with their spirit and enthusiasm for the game often seeing them come out on top.
They certainly have the potential to top their group next Autumn, with Tonga providing their toughest opposition, and will likely bring a strong squad over to the Northern Hemisphere.
Here’s how we think they’ll line up…
Fullback – Alex Johnston
Johnston pledged his allegiance to the Kumuls last year after previously representing Australia in 2015. He brings real star quality to the side, having played over 100 NRL games, scoring 83 tries. He’s a dependable option to have at fullback, providing stability in defence and under high kicks, as well as adding to the attack.
Wingers – Edene Gebbie and Xavier Coates
Two very promising NRL starlets line up on the flanks. Gebbie earned a contract with Wayne Bennett’s South Sydney Rabbitohs for 2020 after impressing for the PNG Hunters with his evasiveness and strong running. 19-year-old Coates is on the fringes of the Brisbane side, having made a try-scoring NRL debut for the Broncos last year. He’s tall, athletic and a threat both in the air and with ball-in-hand.
Centres – David Mead and Justin Olam
From two promising young talents to two more experienced outside backs. Mead is into his 12th professional season and his third in Super League. He’s constantly impressed throughout his career, building a reputation as a natural try-scorer during spells with Gold Coast, Brisbane and Catalans. Olam isn’t as experienced as Mead but is beginning to come into his own after a breakthrough 2019 season. His persistent, powerful running has gone down a storm, literally, at Melbourne, where he now commands a starting spot in the centres. Nene Macdonald is another option, however his availability is unknown after he was released by North Queensland mid-way through last year.
Halves – Lachlan Lam and Watson Boas
There are several options in the halves but we’ve gone with these two. Lam, son of Wigan coach Adrian, is in the process of breaking into the Sydney Roosters squad, making four senior appearances so far. He’ll be 23-years-old by next Autumn and will benefit from working alongside the likes of Luke Keary and James Tedesco. Boas has been in and around the Kumuls squad for around four years, with his unpredictable running and jinking sidestep now working wonders for Doncaster in League 1.
Props – Wellington Albert and Luke Page
PNG players are known for their athleticism and no-nonsense approach and that’s exactly what this pair provide. Albert actually used to play as a winger, meaning his leg drive and pace are excellent, while has since adapted to a role in the forwards, adding offloading to his game. Page became a cult hero in 2015, with a string of good performances for NSW Cup club Mount Pritchard Mounties and an international debut earning him a short-term deal with St George in the NRL.
Hooker – Kurt Baptiste
Baptiste starts at hooker, with James Segeyaro’s availability still unknown in light of his suspension for a positive drugs test. The 29-year-old had an extremely short stint in the UK, making a single appearance for Leigh in 2018 but has spent most of career in the NRL, mainly acting as a second-choice hooker. He’s constantly impressed for the Kumuls, though, with his smart distribution and solid defending making him a real asset.
Second Rowers – Nixon Putt and Daniel Russell
25-year-old back rower Putt has been impressing in the Queensland Cup for the past four years, initially for the PNG Hunters and now for Norths Devils. He was part of the Hunters’ 2017 league title winning side, with his strong runs contributing heavily throughout the season. Rangy North Queensland Cowboy Russell plies his trade mainly as a centre but his physique lends itself well to second row position. He has good pace and uses his size to his advantage, dominating defenders and creating space.
Loose Forward – Rhyse Martin
Captaining the side from loose forward is Leeds Rhinos star Rhyse Martin. The 27-year-old has been a hit since joining the former Super League champions mid-way through 2019 and has been producing similarly impressive performances for PNG since debuting in 2014. His goal kicking and leadership will be crucial.
Subs – Kyle Laybutt, Garry Lo, Stanton Albert and Moses Meninga
The bench is an odd mix but sticks with the style PNG have been using in recent years. Albert and Meninga are both quality forwards in their own right and provide rotation at prop. Laybutt can play both in the halves and at hooker, giving coach Michael Marum an extra creative option off the bench. Finally, ex-Castleford winger Lo not only allows for rotation in the outside backs but brings the enthusiasm to irritate opposition defenders down the middle. He’s a constant ball of energy and doesn’t take a backward step when carting the ball in.