Hundreds gather to watch game

A lot of firsts were recorded during the NRL grand final on Sunday evening.

It was the first time a son of Sinasina-Yongomugl scooped the Provan-Summons Trophy with the Melbourne Storm, and it was the first time his people gathered together to watch his historical match.

The name ‘Justin Olam’ reverberated throughout Papua New Guinea as the countdown began for the Melbourne Storm vs Penrith Panthers clash on Sunday, the 25th of October.

Back home in Simbu, passionate supporters started looking for screening areas or homes with television sets to make sure they do not miss the match of the year as well as extra cash if their bets come good.

Olam, who is from Dinga village in the Sinasina-Yongomugl, or SSY district, spent most of his childhood at Koge, where his father works as a district health worker at the health centre there.

The buzz at Koge was contagious as youngsters and youth – both male and female – took to the fields for a game of footy before gathering under a newly-constructed tent at Olam’s former elementary school to watch the game on the big screen.

The screening area, set up by the Digicel Goroka team and a TVWAN crew, saw men, women and children stream in from all corners of Koge, including neighbouring villages, over an hour before the game. People came from as far as Kebai, Kere, Tabare, Gon or Dinga, Olam’s own village, and Dom, which is located right at the top of a mountain, including Dumun and Kamtai.

As soon as the projector was turned on, locals started chanting in excitement.

By 6.30pm, the tent was packed to capacity, with people spilling onto the dirt track, standing under banana trees, sitting in vegetable gardens or perching atop old kunai huts; cheering in unison or booing at the rival team.

The emotional ride, however, ended on a low as most Papua New Guineans expressed their frustration at Olam not being given an opportunity to speak after the game despite being the first scorer in their 26-20 victory.

“Mipla ol Simbu ino wanbel olsem ol ino intaviuim Justin Olam,” said Dom Priest, a secondary school teacher in Simbu. (We in Simbu are unhappy that they did not interview Justin Olam.)

“Justin Olam is full of energy and an energetic player.”

A pastor from Kerowagi said: “Mi hamamas lo Justin Olam lo aste geim blo em. Mipla pilim wanbel stret tasol sampla samting ol i no wokim na mipla ol Simbu i no wanbel lo em. So mipla laikim neks yia, Justin Olam i mas go next step lo disla.” (I was happy with Justin Olam’s game yesterday. We were over the moon but there was one thing that they didn’t do and we the Simbu people were not happy with it. Next year, we want Justin to take a step forward from this game.)

Another concerned wantok said: “Lo makim neim blo Kundiawa taun na ol liklik sipsip blo taun, mi laik tok tenk yu lo Justin. Planti taim, ol waitman mas eknolidjim ol disla kain man na at least mekim sampla koment since mipla lukim end of the game nogat wanpla appreciation blo NRL lo Justin. Lo makim neim blo fo kona taun, mi ba brukim trai wantem namba 4 jesi.” (On behalf of Kundiawa town and its people, I want to thank Justin. People like him must be acknowledged because at the end of the game, we saw that there was no appreciation from NRL to Justin. On behalf of our ‘four corner’ town, I will score a try in a number four jersey.)

Papua New Guineans also took to social media to air their disappointment, accusing Australian media for downplaying their champion.

“If you've been watching the semifinals football and the grand final so far, PNG was continually referenced synonymously with Olam,” a rugby league enthusiast posted.

“A ploy that worked. Basic marketing technique for a specific audience. All I’m saying is that they should have honoured that pitch. I doubt any of the players on either side has a whole nation behind them.”

(Locals celebrating at Koge)

Carmella Gware