Castleford Tigers coach Daryl Powell vividly remembers Great Britain’s ‘Tear Gas Test’ in Papua New Guinea

Daryl Powell in action for Great Britain. Picture: Andrew Varley.
Daryl Powell in action for Great Britain. Picture: Andrew Varley.
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“IF you breathed it in, it completely disoriented you: if it got in your eyes or throat it was so difficult to manage or even just to try and stay composed.”

Daryl Powell is talking about what tear gas can do to you – when playing rugby league.

The Castleford Tigers head coach had the bizarre experience while featuring with Great Britain against Papua New Guinea in 1990.

During chaotic scenes and a febrile atmosphere at Danny Leahy Oval in Goroka, police fired tear gas actually during the game to try and dispel crowds.

The Kumuls, perhaps unsurprisingly given all the commotion, went on to win 20-18, the only time they have ever defeated the Lions or England since they started playing internationally in 1975.

It was certainly a proud day for the South Pacific nation, the only country in the world where rugby league is the national sport, and they are hoping to repeat the feat – without the tear gas – when they face the current Lions side in Port Moresby tomorrow morning (7.30am).

Back in 1990, the attendance for the first Test was listed as 11,598 but, those there, said thousands more tried to get in.

“People travelled for days to get to that game but some didn’t have enough money to actually then get in,” Powell told The Yorkshire Post.

“There were all these corrugated iron fences around but they broke them down.

“The police were actually firing tear gas to STOP people coming in.

“You can imagine – we want people to come and watch the sport but there they had to do that to stop them coming!

“It was difficult. The whole atmosphere is pretty intimidating. Ex-Pats Australians living there whip it all up but rugby league is massive in PNG.

“It’s the national sport and you get great crowds. It’s a different feel – a different noise – you get from the crowd compared to anywhere else in the world and it is intense.

“The ground itself was rock hard and we’d already found loads of different stones on there.

“The facilities weren’t great and I remember the changing rooms at Goroka were water-logged so we actually got changed at the hotel.

“It was an inhospitable place to play, an interesting place to play and visit.”

Malcolm Reilly’s squad was full of stars including Garry Schofield, Mike Gregory, Jonathan Davies and Dennis Betts plus gifted scrum-half Bobbie Goulding, the youngest-ever Lions tourist who debuted aged just 18.

Powell – who also played Test games in PNG in 1992 and 1996 – added: “I’d had a really good game against France leading up to the tour .

“I think I started at six ahead of Garry Schofield. But I’d had to play two games before on tour and I found it pretty difficult.

“I don’t think I had my best game and I did struggle; there was no fluency.

“They came after you the Papuans and they could rattle you.

“I imagine it’s a bit different now almost 30 years on but back then it was a really tough place to play and you were put under a lot of pressure.

“Away from home, PNG couldn’t out-last teams but at home, playing in that humidity – you couldn’t breathe properly at times – it was different especially for people coming from our climate.”

Granted, Great Britain fared better the following week, winning the second Test 40-8 in Port Moresby with Leeds winger Carl Gibson (2), Powell, Goulding, Schofield, Paul Dixon and Paul Eastwood all scoring tries.

The tourists moved onto New Zealand and won a tight series 2-1 before returning home and beating Australia at Wembley.

Powell, playing for Sheffield Eagles at the time, featured in them all but, painfully, the Ashes eluded the Lions once more as the Kangaroos fought back.