JAMES BUCKLEY | Fairfax Media | Edited
SYDNEY - Speak to anyone that's played rugby league in
Papua New Guinea, and they will all furnish you with unbelievable
stories of the insatiable passion the locals possess for their
PNG is a developing and diverse country with more than 800
languages, high crime and significant unemployment, but rugby
league is the constant that unites its eight million people.
But when their Australian heroes come to these shores for the
annual Prime Minister's XIII fixture against Papua New Guinea,
played yesterday, quite often that lust for the game bubbles over
Cronulla back rower Wade Graham played his first PM's XIII match
in 2012 and it's an experience he'll never forget.
"The grandstand collapsed the year I was there and a few people
died, it was pretty full on," Graham said.
"It's the passion they have for the league here, it's very
"It's one of those things you can try to explain it, but until
you experience it you just don't understand it."
From the moment the Australian contingent lands in PNG until
they depart a few days later, the players are treated like rock
Everyone wants a piece of them, from machine-gun wielding
security guards who crave nothing more than to pose for a
photograph with their idols, to the locals on the street who sprint
after the team bus.
But it's the children who leave the most lasting memories, both
good and bad.
They know all of the players, and religiously refer to them by
their surnames. At a clinic on Friday morning, screaming cries of
"Dugan" preceded his swamping by a delighted mob of local
Tedesco, Klemmer, Maloney and co all received the same
The Australian players are strongly advised not to throw team
kit outside the team bus while in transit, particularly when
they're surrounded by fans on leaving the airport.
One year a prized piece of merchandise was flung out to the
masses and a young boy barely six years old arrived first to haul
Just seconds later an older kid, still not even a teenager,
arrived on the scene, landed a few haymakers on the youngster and
tried making off with the loot.