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Visa problems maroon PNG players

From Richard Jones in London

In a blow to the Papua New Guinea rugby league team’s preparations for the World Cup, half of its squad was marooned in Port Moresby this week because of visa issues, flying in the face of the Australian Government’s commitment earlier this year to resolve one of the major problems that have been bedevilling the PNG-Australia relationship.

Papua New Guinea coach Adrian Lam has predicted a finals finish for England in rugby league's World Cup, which kicks off in Australia tonight. In London's The Times, arguably the world's most famous newspaper, former Wigan Warriors' scrum half Lam said England had a great chance of winning the Cup.

"I think England has a great chance of not only reaching the final but also of winning the whole thing," he said. "The English game has been chipping away and personally I think the brand of football in the Super League is more watchable than (Australia's) NRL. England intend to play to those strengths. If they can do that, maybe the era of Australian dominance will be ended. Certainly the game needs it," said the PNG coach.

Australia has won the World Cup final on every occasion it has been contested since 1975. Great Britain beat the Aussies in France in 1972 - the last time the Kangaroos have been beaten in the final.

Lam's team faces England in Townsville on Sunday in a game which will be televised live into the United Kingdom on Sky Sports 2. Previewing the match for The Times from Townsville, Christopher Irvine said half the Papua New Guinea squad had been marooned in Port Moresby last week because of visa problems.

"But a combination of (England) Super League veterans, NRL young guns and indigenous PNG players determined to thrust themselves onto the global stage will make the Kumuls no pushovers," he said. "Stanley Gene burst onto the scene at the 1995 World Cup and the Hull Kingston Rovers loose forward of indeterminate age - he is 'officially' 34 --- has been part and parcel of the British game since then."

"Professional players get around 60 pounds a match in PNG, which compares with the annual weekly wage there of 5-6 pounds," Lam told Irvine. The PNG coach added that the clash with England "was more than just a game" for his players. "It's the chance to showcase their talents and possibly command a good wage overseas. That's what Stanley did, and there are more Stanleys waiting in the wings."

The PNG coach singled out England forward Gareth Hock's temperament as something which England coach Tony Smith (an Australian) would have to watch. Lam pinpointed Hock's talent during his time at Wigan, but Hock was suspended in July for five club matches for grabbing a referee's arm. "He was wild when we were both at Wigan and he's no doubt wild now," said Lam "He was someone I felt had a huge future, but there can be a bit of ill-discipline with him."

How tonight's teams line up -- England: P. Wellens, A. Gardner, M. Gleeson, K. Senior, L. Smith, K. Pryce, R. Burrow; J. Peacock (capt), J. Roby, J. Graham. G. Hock, G. Ellis, K. Sinfield. Interchange: A. Morley, M. Fa'asavalu, D. McGuire, D. Wilkin.

Papua New Guinea: J. Wilshere (capt), G. Kepa, J.J. Parker, T. Maori, D. Moore, R. Griffin, K. Peters; M. Alzue, P. Alton, T. Exton, N. Costigan, J. Nightingale, S. Gene. Interchange from: R. Pora, G. Moni, J. Chan, C. Wabo, N. Kolo, A. Kui, M. Yere,

Referee: S. Hayne (Australia).


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