Rugby - Engan Style

via Papua New Guinea



Rugby Engan Style

This is an article written by Reinier Jessuran who is or was based in Porgera teaching children at the international school. It has been published here before but newer readers may not have had a chance to read it. (IEA Schools --


© Copyright of the article remains with the author -- Reinier Jessuran.


Wild Times at the Footy!

Rugby league resembles a tribal fight in these parts of PNG. Today I had the pleasure of playing my first match on the hollow turf (most precisely shin deep mud) of the Payam Rocks' home ground. The visiting time were The Station Eagles, players from a collection of villages some 5 KM from Payam. One would assume that the players and spectators from both teams would be good friends since they live in close proximity of each other. This proved not to be the case!

Just how I came to playing a game of rugby league eventuated after I met the husband of Kaspina, one of the teachers at Porgera International School. His name is Jonathan and he just so happened to be coach of the mighty Payam Rocks. This team is named after the huge cliff (perhaps it really is a large rock) that towers over the town of Payam. Often the mascot name of a team personifies their personality. Certainly the players of The Rocks are a tough and sturdy collection of muscular individuals. Anyway, I mentioned to Jonathan that I enjoy rugby and have coached at various levels back in Australia. The next moment I found myself accepting an invitation to play in a semi-final match against The Eagles.

Pre-match preparations involve lighting a smoke fire. This signifies to the other team a "declaration of hostilities". The Rocks consisted of a squad of about 20 players, some of whom wore rugby boots, whilst other ran around in old shoes and the brave ran out in bare feet. All players wore a collection of old shorts and jerseys in various states of decay. The only exception was myself who just so happened to be wearing brand new boots, much to the admiration of the observing crowd. Stretching is not a big part of the warm up routine, rather energy is spent giving and listening to long speeches. This by all accounts is deemed a more appropriate means of preparing for a rugby match. I lost count after about the 15th speech was given, although several of them notably mentioned "the white fella from down-under".

As The Rocks ran out onto the ground (wrong term - pig pen), I became the first outsider to play for the team. After match reports indicate that when spectators observed a white man playing rugby, they notified many of their friends to come out of their nearby abodes. In all about 3000 spectators turned out to observe the match. By the time I had reached the centre of the ground I was already covered in mud up to my shins. The Eagle players were somewhat surprised to discover that their opposition had resorted to importing players, although I suspect my small frame did not strike fear into these warriors!

Play did not start for another 15 minutes because it was time for the referee to give a long speech about the rules of the game and the spirit he expected it to be played. Much of his dialogue stressed that he did not want any spectators questioning his decisions. I particularly admired his headwear, being a dirty footy sock!

So The Eagles eventually got around to kicking off the ball to formally start the game. The ground was surrounded by spectators from both sides, most dressed in the usual rags and old apparel worn by most locals. A small number of spectators had painted their faces with various tribal markings. The next 40 minutes were a personal struggle of heaving my feet out of the mud. I made a couple of tackles bringing shrieks of laughter and cheers from the spectators. Overall my contribution was minimal. By half time the score was 0-0, although both teams continually threw the ball around as if playing a game of sevens. The handling skills and particularly the hard running of most players was most impressive.

Half time signified the end of my contribution and the start of another 15 minutes of speeches.

Events started to warm up after The Eagles scored an excellent try after 5 minutes of the commencement of the second half. To this point of play the game had been played in excellent spirit and without any nasty violent play.

At about the 10-minute interval one of The Eagle players tackled a Rock player around the sternum. To the referee's naked eye it was a fair tackle, but not to several of The Rocks' spectators who demanded a penalty be given. The referee refused to award a penalty and this firstly led to several flying mounds of mud being lobbed at the unfortunate referee. Some of these mud balls hit Eagle players who ran towards the offending spectators. Within a few seconds literally most of the viewing spectators for both teams had left their perches and charged like a light horse brigade towards to spot where the referee had stood just a few seconds ago. At this point I charged in the opposite direction taking two escorts with me to offer protection if required. What happened next were numerous fights breaking out, before The Eagle players and many of their spectators reminded themselves that they were in the heartland of enemy territory. Within a blink of my eye I observed The Eagle delegation sprinting up a big hill and down a long road chased by about a thousand local Payam residents including many students at my school. The police fired several rounds from their guns, not to scare anyone I suspect, but to signify that the real action of the afternoon had commenced!

By all accounts The Eagles were chased and fought for approximately 4 KM along the road leading to the gold mine before the Payam crew decided to call it a day. The good news is that there will be a replay of the match next week, so everybody will have a chance to have some more fun!

>So this was my introduction of rugby league, Engan style.

Paiam Township, Enga

Reinier Jessuran. (2001)


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Created 2001
Updated 11 Sep, 2006

© 2001 - Trevor Michie