Papua New Guinea have sent captain David Mead out as a winner while putting their World Cup rivals on notice after defeating Fiji 24-14 in a high-quality Pacific Test.
A physical battle unfolded in the sides’ first Test match since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic but PNG’s steely goal-line defence and ability to make the most of limited opportunities proved the difference.
Mead announced his decision to retire from international duties earlier this week and when Lachlan Lam sent him over for a try after breaking the line in the 66th minute, PNG closed in on victory.
“The coaching staff and all the players have made it a special week for me and my family and to top it off with a win is a huge bonus,” Mead said.
The win would also have added weight to Papua New Guinea’s bid for the NRL’s 18th licence.
Planning is still in the early stages but one thing is for certain – PNG brought enough talent and intensity to the contest to suggest they could compete with an NRL side.
Both nations also look ready to make an impact at this year’s World Cup, which begins in October.
While there has been plenty of discussion about Tonga’s ability to upset the three tier one nations in Australia, New Zealand and England, Saturday night’s game at Campbelltown Sports Stadium will also give Fiji and PNG reason to dream of World Cup glory.
Fiji enjoyed the bulk of field position and possession but lacked inspiration in their fifth-tackle options and struggled to capitalise.
“There was a lack of patience as soon as we got close to the tryline, trying to score every set,” Fiji forward Tui Kamikamica said.
“But in saying that, it was a pretty physical game and PNG really deserved to win.”
There seemed to be no breaking through the resolute PNG defence until Kevin Naiqama chased his grubberkick close to the line and grabbed the ball back for a try.
But PNG went into the break 12-6 ahead despite having only five play-the-balls inside their opposition’s 20m zone, compared to Fiji’s 24.
Fiji fullback Sunia Turuva gave Penrith fans a preview of the future, clocking up 252 metres to go with two tries and seven tackle busts.
The 19-year-old is without question ready for an NRL debut should injury strike Dylan Edwards down in the Panthers’ quest for back-to-back premierships.
NRL rivals might have liked what they saw but Turuva re-committed to the Panthers earlier this month and will join their top-30 squad for at least two more seasons from 2023.
“He’s going to be a very good player of the future,” Kamikamica said.
Turuva brought Fiji back into the contest with his first try in the second half but Mead helped the Kumuls hit back with a try he’ll remember for the rest of his life.
It wouldn’t have been a PNG win without some Justin Olam magic.
The Melbourne fan favourite produced an inch-perfect grubberkick for Lam to score his second try that sealed the result for the Kumuls.