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The early days of Papuan rugby league: Friday nights at the PRL

Papua v New Guinea 1964
Program for the annual Papua versus New Guinea encounter, 1964


SYDNEY - In the 1960s and 1970s there was only once place to be in Port Moresby on Friday night, well during the footie season anyway.

The place was the Papuan Rugby League ground in Boroko, play starting with Reserve Grade at six followed by A Grade at nine, usually finishing around 10.30 which gave most club members four or five hours to get well lubricated.

Although there were only five A Grade clubs the standard of play was high and supporters very committed to their teams. As the consumption of alcohol escalated, so did the noise of barracking.

But, as tough and skilled as were the games, the real action took place after the final whistle of A Grade. The downstairs area of the club became a venue for Games Night, each club taking it in turn to run the events which were a valuable source of funds.

The games included Under and Overs, Crown and Anchor and, later in the evening, Two Up. As you would expect, the mix of alcohol, parochialism and gambling created a heady atmosphere although ever vigilant club officials made sure fights rarely occurred within the gambling area. After all, if things got out of hand, they could lose a lot of money and the revenue from these nights was essential. (Rugby League in PNG was professional even in those days.)

Out in the car park, however, things sometimes got out of hand and drunken brawls were fairly common though generally quickly contained.

The last thing the PRL wanted was to attract the attention of the police, who generally turned a blind eye to the gambling but would clamp down if the fighting got too bad.

The players were a mixed bunch. Many came to PNG mainly to play league, lured by job offers and lucrative match payments. Then they’d stay on for years, often after their playing careers ended.

Their expertise added greatly to the quality of the game in PNG and many also contributed in other areas. However others were short termers, some of dubious backgrounds.

For a while, until the League clamped down, clubs would import players for just two or three games leading up to grand finals. One case was former St George centre, Bruce Pollard, brought up for a couple of games specifically to counter the talented Mark Harris. Although past his best, Pollard was a class player.

Papuan Rugby League badgeOthers who appeared on the scene turned out to be disasters on and off the field. One from Townsville came up to play for the Hawks. His identity came to light one Sunday afternoon during a reserve grade game when he spotted opposition coach, former first grade Queensland player Pat Pyers, and yelled, “Well, fuck me, its Piggyback Pyers!”

Not to be outdone Pat retorted, “Shut up Cement Head or I’ll tell them what your nickname is”. Cement Head was well named. One sport journalist describing him as “having a head like a working bullock!”

Anyway, on the football field, despite his intimidating appearance, he proved useless, and after a series of off-field incidents was sent south never to be seen on PNG’s shores again.


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Lloyd Bunting

I used to go to the football field between 4-Mile and Boroko along the newly created road (imaginatively named 'The Access Road') in the late 1950s.

At age 10 I'd sell programs at the gate, collect bottles (to cash in their deposits) during the first and second halves, and play football on the field at half time. I never saw any brawling.

This all ended when I had to go to high school in Sydney. There was no high school in Port Moresby at the time.

When Port Moresby High School opened I was the 32nd pupil to enrol. Football was a mess: we had some people who played rugby league so who played union, some who played Aussie Rules and one who played gridiron.

The quality of education at the high school was very high. When we moved to Sydney in 1961 I got 99.5% in my Intermediate Certificate Physics exam at Penrith High School (nowadays rated 16th best of all public and private schools in Australia).

We all miss our unrecoverable childhood experiences. My days at Port Moresby in the 1950s were some of the best days of my life.

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