STANLEY GENE, rugby league's own international man of mystery, has extra reason to look forward to Saturday's World Cup opening fixture against England.
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It was in the 1995 World Cup that Gene first burst on to the scene and 13 years later the hugely popular Papuan is aiming to make as big an impression as he did back then.
Gene, whose exploits for his national team saw him plucked from the tropical rain forests of New Guinea to a cold, uncertain new life in East Yorkshire with Hull Kingston Rovers, is hoping to line up against England in Townsville on Saturday night.
Papua New Guinea's vice-captain is one of the few Kumuls whose face will be familiar to the England players and the fiercely competitive loose forward is relishing the chance to roll back the years against his fellow Super League stars.
Three teams from Pool A, which also features Australia and New Zealand, will go through to the semi-finals and though the Papuans are massive underdogs Gene insists qualification is not beyond them.
"It will be hard for us to qualify, but we can do it," said Gene. "That is what I said to the boys in the villages when I got back home before the competition.
"I told them that we will do our best and that we must not be scared of anyone. If they go out there, work hard and play hard, then the scouts will be watching and maybe someone will take a chance on them like Hull KR did for me in 1995. We can't be scared and we won't be scared."
The ageless Gene – he is officially 34 – has won many friends during his 12 seasons in England and recently signed a one-year extension to his contract at Hull KR, who he rejoined last season after spells with Hull, Huddersfield and Bradford.
His story is an example of what can be achieved in the sporting world through hard work, application and dedication and is captivatingly told in his recently-published autobiography, Daydream Believer (TH Media, 11.99).
Written in association with freelance writer Stuart Wilkin, Daydream Believer describes how two very different worlds – growing up in the jungle near Goroka in Papua New Guinea and playing rugby league in northern England – helped shape one of sport's most colourful characters.
One things the book does not reveal is the subject's date of birth, a deliberate oversight which does nothing to diminish the stature of a player whose humility has remained refreshingly intact.
"I love the club and I love playing in England. Hull KR saved my life, which you can't understand if you have not been to Goroka," said Gene. "They gave me an opportunity to come to England and play for them, to work hard and to help me to provide for my family and everyone else back in Goroka.
"Representing my country at the World Cup is a reward for everyone that has supported me."
Gene's success has enabled him to provide an electricity supply to the remote village he still refers to as 'home', even though he is settled in Yorkshire with his Hull-born wife Jo and their sons Leo and Elliott.
He is as coy about his future plans as he is about his age, although he does concede that he is unlikely to feature in the next World Cup which has been provisionally scheduled for England in 2013.
"This World Cup will be the last time I play for the Kumuls," he said. "I am good friends with the coach Adrian Lam and when he called me and asked me to come and play, I had to do it. But this is the last time for me.
"I have another year at Hull Kingston Rovers and after that, who knows?
"People have been saying to me for the last five years that my time is up and that I have to retire, I have to give up.
"No-one tells me when I have to retire, when I have to go. When the time is right, I will know.
"I am the only person who will know when the time is right to put that ball in the bin.
"I'm playing really well and as I have got older I am playing more good footy."
Come Saturday night, Gene will find out whether his 'footy' is good enough to help Papua New Guinea spring what would be one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history.
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