PNG players relishing academy

ACHING BODIES: Papua New Guinea players Christopher Kakah, front left, and Billy Torea, front right, recovering after a tough day with the international rugby academy at Massey University.
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ACHING BODIES: Papua New Guinea players Christopher Kakah, front left, and Billy Torea, front right, recovering after a tough day with the international rugby academy at Massey University.

Two rugby players from rugby league-mad Papua New Guinea are among the first players from Pacific Island nations to attend the international rugby academy at Massey University.

Billy Torea and Christopher Kakah, from Port Moresby, have joined the three-week academy.

In a country dominated by the 13-man game, they said they weren't double-dipping in both codes.

"Full-on union," Kakah said.

"I grew up playing the game."

There is a 14-team senior competition in Papua New Guinea, with most of the teams in the capital, Port Moresby.

There are only 3200 registered players in the country compared with New Zealand which has more than 137,000.

"There's a lot [of rugby players]," Torea said.

"We're lucky to be here. Rugby league's our national sport but our rugby is growing fast."

Here on a scholarship, they felt privileged to be attending and would have to use what they learned to help rugby in Papua New Guinea.

"Back home we make do with what we have," Kakah said. "It's basically the people that play here are more technical; it's about pen and paper and practical stuff."

New Zealand rugby was more structured than the game at home and the weather was a challenge.

They had come from 30-degree Celcius heat to a cold and windy New Zealand summer.

"You guys call it summer; we call it cold," Torea said.

Kakah plays for the Harlequins club and Torea the Nova club and while they have faced each other in the playoffs at home, they were friends while they were training together here.

The two have played for the Papua New Guinea sevens team on the international circuit under the leadership of former All Black and Wales international Shane Howarth.

Twenty-year-old Torea is a stocky No8 and Kakah, 22, is a fullback.

Both will have the opportunity to learn from high-profile New Zealand rugby coaches while they are with the academy.

The national team is nicknamed the Pukpuks, meaning crocodile in Papua New Guinea's native tongue.

Pita Semeane and Iosefo Ropeti Lafo, from Samoa, and Maleko Latu and Otulea Katoa, from Tonga, are also at the academy, on Digicel scholarships paid for by telecommunications company Digicel.

Manawatu Standard