TWO of Super League’s scarce Papua New Guinean stars meet head on tonight, although Huddersfield Giants’ Jason Chan believes there will be plenty more to come in the future.
His impending battle with Kumuls team-mate Paul Aiton is one of the many subplots in their West Yorkshire derby against Leeds Rhinos.
Yet, although Sheffield Eagles’ prolific centre Menzie Yere, veteran Dewsbury Rams prop Makail Aizue and Whitehaven’s Jessie Joe Parker frequent the Championship, Hull KR’s Neville Costigan is the only other PNG star operating in the top flight.
However, now their country has a club once more in the Queensland Cup – the NRL’s second tier competition – with PNG Hunters producing a historic win over the famous Redcliffe in their opener last weekend, Chan feels it will herald a new dawn.
“That country is footy-mad,” said the Huddersfield second-row, who was born in Sydney but spent six years of his childhood growing up on the Pacific Ocean island with his Papuan father.
“They are very patriotic and the government in Australia helps them out a lot with the rugby.
“There’s some young talent I don’t even know and they’re coming through and playing in the Queensland Cup side and I’m like ‘Who IS that guy?’
“They all come out the same size – ripped, five foot 11; 90, 95 or 100 kilos – and they are all just naturally talented.
“That’s what they live and breathe. I know there is a good alliance with Hull KR and PNG through Stan (Gene) and it’s a breeding ground for rugby.
“I’m sure, if they get the chance, they’ll be more coming over.”
Hull KR were thwarted by red tape issues in their bid to get Francis Paniu and Enoch Maki – forwards who played with Chan in the World Cup last autumn – over here this season.
“I know Mark Mexico who’s a front-rower for PNG, a great player and someone Bradford want, but he’s just had visa problems too,” he said.
“It’s something to do with English tests or the government not being quick enough and stuff. But once they iron out those problems it will open the floodgates for a lot of good talent coming over.”
For now, then, it is just Chan and the likes of Aiton, the combative hooker who joined Leeds from Wakefield Trinity Wildcats over the winter.
“He’s good and just one of those guys who will hit you in the first minute and then he’ll still be there in the 79th still getting into you,” said the Huddersfield forward, ahead of tonight’s encounter.
“Paul’s tough, he’s fit, he could play lock, second-row, hooker, half and is one of those versatile players.
“He’s a good bloke too. We talk quite often and do a bit of business together away from footy also.
“It’ll be good to see him out there but hopefully he stays in the middle and I stay out on the verges to give him a wave before shaking his hand at the end.”
Last season’s League Leaders Shield winners have endured a frustrating start having twice thrown away leads to draw at home to Hull KR and then lose 22-20 at Widnes a week ago.
“Widnes rolled us and that was tough and physical,” admitted 30-year-old Chan, now in his third campaign since joining from Crusaders.
“In the last two games I don’t think we’ve been clicking like we did when peaking last year.
“But we’re improving. Leeds have some talent. They are a really good side but from memory we’ve always just picked them off a little bit.
“Hopefully we can find that form of the last couple of years.”