Papua New Guinea aiming for the stars and Touch World Cup glory

May 12, 2023 @ 10:45 UTC

After securing semi-finals finishes at the last World Cup, Papua New Guinea wants to win big when the Touch World Cup lands in Nottingham in 2024.

Papua New Guinea is determined to enhance its international standing after securing fourth place in the Women’s Opens and Mixed Opens categories and a playoff spot in the Men’s Opens at the 2019 Touch World Cup.

With big plans to exceed their results in Malaysia, the team sees the first-ever Asia Pacific Youth Touch Cup (APYTC) in Brisbane from 12–14 May as a crucial steppingstone towards their ultimate success.

Despite visa issues that prevented half of their squad from participating in the APYTC, Papua New Guinea’s Men’s 20s team showed immense potential in their first game against the outstanding New Zealand team. Despite losing to New Zealand 13-4, they put up a commendable fight in the second half, with a score of four touchdowns to the Kiwi’s five in the second stanza. AJ Bennett, Manager of the PNG Women’s 20s, said, “It was a crazy short amount of time to prepare. We had to wing it, waiting for the PNG contingent to arrive. Once they couldn’t make it, we worked hard to pull it together to make it work, which we’ve been able to do.

“We are at this tournament to put our best foot forward in developing Touch in PNG. This is the first time we have been involved in FIT’s Junior Development Program, and we are just so happy to be here in Brisbane. It’s all positive for us.”

According to the head coach of PNG’s youth development pathways, Angela Watego, herself with plans to represent her country at a fifth Touch World Cup in Nottingham, UK, says, Touch Football Papua New Guinea is accustomed to dealing with challenges when attempting to compete with the best in our sport.

Angela said, “It’s so good after the long COVID layoff to be back playing international Touch. However, to keep moving forward, we need government funding in PNG. So, we hope for great results in Brisbane to put us back in lights back home.

“This event shows that international Touch is back and that, once again, there are tournaments for them to compete in again.

“People are still rocking up to comps back home, but we just don’t have the support systems that, for example, Australia does.”

Oswald Wong, Manager of the Men’s 20s, added that in a country where the national sport is rugby league, having Touch as a pathway into the 13-aside code and as a sporting code in its own right is available for people of all ages and all levels.”

AJ Bennett believes Touch in PNG has reached a significant turning point in the game’s history. “Our sport is starting to win more recognition, and our athletes have such a high skill level, which the rugby codes are beginning to notice.

“Even after the Men’s team lost to the Kiwis, the New Zealanders were very complimentary of our plays and how we move. It just comes naturally to us, and you can’t coach that level of natural talent. All we must do is teach our players a bit more structure and control the rock, and we will give the likes of Australia and New Zealand plenty to think about.”

AJ, Jeff and Angela believe that with a few tweaks to their structures, not only will PNG make the Touch World Cup semi-finals, but they’ll win the entire tournament. AJ said, “We want to win and take it. We have winners, and we need the time and the money.”

Apart from AJ, Angela and Oswald, Vavine Yore is working hard to spread the word about Touch in New Guinea. “Vavine is behind everything going on back home and working with us to make sure our youth get to tournaments such as APYTC while the game in PNG develops and grows,” Angela said.

“If we can bring our PNG and Australian based players together, we will be electric.”

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