Playing sport in another country is often the trip of a lifetime for many sportspeople, but a recent journey to Papua New Guinea (PNG) by a team of 16 year-old rugby league players from western communities took that concept to a new level.
The boys from the bush not only played a game of real bush footy over there, they also ran on as the curtain-raiser for the Prime Minister’s XIII’s clash with PNG.
In the main game, the PM’s XIII ran out 58-0 winners in the 32 degree heat, a hot day exacerbated by relentless humidity.
The local boys were ambushed in the first few minutes after two quick tries to the home team, but dug deep to even things up at 12 all just before full time, scoring a try in the dying seconds to run out 16 - 12 winners.
The players came from Dubbo, Gilgandra, Orange, Blayney, Narromine and Nyngan, and the trip is the brainchild of Nyngan’s Col Wright, a former western division player, coach of the Nyngan Tigers and development manager with Far West Academy.
Col’s been doing these sorts of trips for years and says some of the past players have told him the visit to third world countries has changed their lives.
“It’s an experience they’ll never otherwise get, and the boys get involved in all sorts of community activities which is a real eye-opener,” Col said.
“Kids are resilient, and the ones we bring in for the tour are ones who we think will handle all sorts of situations, and the lack of anything over there, seeing how poor the people are yet how happy they are makes a huge impact on them, it makes them realise just how lucky they are to live in Australia.”
The western boys not only had their jerseys handed to them by the Kangaroos like Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson before the game, they actually trained against the PM’s XIII prior to the actual game.
After the main match, the team was addressed by ARL/NRL chairman John Grant and PM’s XIII captain Greg Inglis.
This year Dubbo’s Kenny Fisher went along as a chaperone, he’s well known as a former Dubbo CYMS lock who took out Group 11’s player of the year in 1986, and he also spent time playing league in France with Col.
Kenny said it was, literally, the trip of a lifetime, and he’s keen to go again next year.
Ken’s young bloke, who’s 17, went along as well, ostensibly to carry the water but after an injury he got to play one of the games, sharing that honour with two local juniors who spent days in camp with the NSW team.
The players and their parents have to fund the cost of the trip, although a sponsor chipped in $23,000 this time around which shaved $1000 off the cost for each individual.