Pacific Games organisers are in a race to get venues and facilities ready for the July 4 start. They have 183 days of non-stop work ahead of them. The country’s de facto national side, the Hunters, minus several stars, face the challenge of bettering their 2014 effort.
Rugby league took the lion’s share headlines in 2014 with the rise of the PNG Rugby Football League side into Australia’s leading second-tier competition.
Coached by former Kumul forward and Agmark Gurias’ mentor Michael Marum, the South Pacific Brewery-sponsored side entered the Intrust Super Cup — a feeder competition for National Rugby League — with expectations.
Despite not making the finals in their inaugural year — narrowly missing out on a playoff berth by a point — the Hunters proved to be a hit with fans in Queensland and at home. The side, captained by 22-year-old Israel Eliab, won 14 matches, lost nine and drew one to finish on 33 points.
Along the way winger Gary Lo scored 24 tries to be the top try-scorer in the regular season and take out the Rookie of the Year award at the Q-wCup’s awards night in Brisbane. Other players who had big seasons were hooker Wartovo Puara Junior, bench forward Willie Minoga, Eliab and centre Thompson Teteh. The aim in 2015 is to go one better and make the finals but Marum is a realist and appreciates that sides in the Q-Cup will be better prepared to take his men on when the competition kicks off on the weekend of March 7-8.
Compounding the mission is the departure of several of the club’s best players in Lo, Jason Tali, Dion Aiye (UK), Puara Jr, Teteh and Stanton Albert (NRL).
Half of Marum’s 24-man squad are newcomers and he and his staff have a huge challenge in getting the side ready to hit the ground running in the new season.
The proposed Pacific Cup competition between the Pacific Island’s four main rugby league countries, PNG, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga — with matches in May and October — as well as the Digicel Cup season are the other major events for the code.
The XV Pacific Games in the National Capital District provided will provide many talking points for the New Year as it did in 2014.
The biggest issue remains the completion of the venues and other infrastructure.
With six months to go before the July 4 opening ceremony, construction on the main venues — the Sir John Guise Stadium and Indoor Complex, the Taurama Aquatic Centre, the Bisini Parade sports grounds and the Games Village — is moving along at a decent rate but there are legitimate concerns on whether these facilities will be ready in time for competition.
To a lesser extent, the Sir Hubert Murray Stadium looks to be on track to be ready to host matches but this ground is not part of the Games scope of venues.
It is rather a separate private-public partnership venture between the state and construction firm Curtain Brothers.
The two-week long Pacific Games is the single biggest event for 2015 and all stakeholders — particularly the organisers and the national government — are hoping it will be a success.
But given the time frame for completion of the venues, there are doubts that every field, court and sports facility will be ready on time.
It may be that the city will only be able to provide the minimum requirement for the staging of the competitions.
That would mean to have a field, changing rooms and some form of seating for the public.
That will undercut the organisers’ goal of staging the best ever Games and with a price tag of more than a billion kina, the hope is that Papua New Guinea’s third Pacific Games can at least live up to the benchmark set at the 1991 Games, which was a success for the country both as a sporting event and a cultural spectacle.