A Mexican writes Rugby League in Port Moresby: Richard Jones

Rugby League has long been the pre-eminent sport in Papua New Guinea, a fact rugby union, Aussie Rules and soccer fans have just had to stomach. So it should come as no surprise to followers of those codes and other disciplines such as track and field, tennis, golf and swimming that league naturally attracted the lion’s share of media coverage in the 60s and 70s.

The South Pacific Post, superseded in 1969 by the five-times-a-week national daily Post-Courier, devoted large slabs of space to stories about rugby league: the nation’s code.

I actually wrote previews and reviews about the five-club Papuan Rugby League competition for these estimable newspapers for three years: 1967-69.

Nothing so special about that, you might say. Ah yes, but to have a Victorian writing about the game so entrenched in the psyche of Queenslanders and New South Welshmen was certainly different.

I don’t remember from which journo I took over, but Brendan Moloney–later the chief golf writer at the Melbourne Age–was sports editor at Moresby’s Lawes Road newspaper headquarters during the late sixties. And then when I handed over the quill, or the typewriter as it was back then, long before the advent of the computer age, Dick Carey became the league scribe.

Friday night football was all the go in the late 1960s. After a hectic working week people loved to unwind in the (relative) cool of the evening at what is now known as the Lloyd Robson Oval in Boroko.

Under lights a PRL competition match would unfold below these fans. They could slake their thirst in the licensed club situated at the top of the grandstand. Even carry their drinks down the flights of steps to their spectator positions.

The other match in the regular PRL season would be played on Sunday afternoons. A much hotter proposition, in the daylight.

The five competing clubs were Paga (a sky blue strip), DCA or the Department of Civil Aviation (white jerseys with a blue yoke), Magani-Badili (maroon, with a gold logo), Hawks (green) and Kone Tigers (gold and black).

When I first started writing match reports unkind aficionados would ask: how did I know about scrums, forward passes, side steps and a whole array of technical terms? 

he answer was that journalists have to quickly pick up knowledge on the job, so to speak, about a range of sports if that’s what they want to do for a living.

Think of the ABC and Channel 7 sportswriters sent to Olympic and Commonwealth Games to cover bobsledding, downhill moguls, freestyle skiing and cross country skiing in the winter disciplines, not to mention white water canoeing, handball, the 50 km walk and archery at their summer equivalent.

Versatility is the keyword here, as it was for me 40 years ago.

The other key thing about covering rugby league when I did was reporting on the feats of national players who were gradually coming into the competing sides.

I particularly remember DCA’s outside centre Gabo Vitiu. Although I didn’t know the connection at the time, his father Vitiu worked as my houseboi in the Amazon Bay area of the east Central District in the early 70s. I showed Vitiu clippings of Gabo’s feats and so excited was the older man that I had copies made of the photos of his son.

There were many other fine PNG players in the late 60s. Paga had Tolai winger Meli Muga and Hawks had a forward named Baby Wele. I seem to recall he was called “Baby” because he was the youngest of the Wele clan. Daniel Gire and Dadi Toka were other top PNG players in the PRL of that era.

But John, later Sir John, Kaputin was the first Papua New Guinean to play in the top grade. DCA front row forward Joe Morris remembers Sir John fondly.

‘One night we were playing Kone and John was in their side. We flattened one of the Kone players and the crowd erupted.

‘People started storming the fences around the field. John jumped the fence near the grandstand and got hold of the microphone. “He managed to gain control,” Joe recalls.

In a nice piece of understatement the DCA forward recalls “It wasn’t nice.”

However, Morris and his DCA teammates got through “heaps of SP beer” that evening once the match had been completed.

Joe Morris says John Kaputin was not only a great player but a “really nice bloke, too”.


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