Papua New Guinea stars put Super League clubs on alert following superb World Cup displays

IF there is one country in the world that is rugby league mad, then it is Papua New Guinea.

PNG, nicknamed the Kumuls, are one of the beating hearts of the sport and the reactions in Port Moresby – the capital – following their victory over the Cook Islands was something to behold.

But in their two games so far, PNG stars have well and truly announced themselves on the international stage.

The likes of Nixon Putt, Sylvester Namo, Kyle Laybutt, Rodrick Tai and McKenzie Yei have put their names out there in the shop window following sterling performances in the Kumuls’ opening two World Cup games.

Putt, a 27-year-old forward born in Mount Hagen, has been playing his rugby league for the Central Queensland Capras for the past two seasons in the Queensland Cup after spells at the PNG Hunters and Norths Devils – ironically where current Leeds Rhinos head coach Rohan Smith had been coaching prior to his Headingley calling.

Putt’s teammate at the Capras, McKenzie Yei, has certainly been putting himself about in the World Cup as well. Just 25, Yei’s brilliant 60-metre run against the Cook Islands last night put his name on the map.

Meanwhile Namo, just 22 years of age, has played almost 30 games for the PNG Hunters in two seasons. Akin to a human wrecking ball, the prop has been skittling his opponents in the World Cup so far.

Kyle Laybutt is unique in the fact that he has played at the highest level before, registering two appearances for the North Queensland Cowboys in the NRL between 2017 and 2018 before leaving to ply his trade in the lower leagues with the Townsville Blackhawks in the Intrust Super Cup.

His ability to control games with his direct running and passing game has been impressive to say the least, and, with a number of Super League and Championship clubs needing that type of playmaker, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in the UK by 2023.

Of course, last but not least is Rodrick Tai whose stunning 80-metre try against the Cook Islands is all the more impressive considering it was his debut in PNG colours. Aged just 23, Tai plays for the PNG Hunters, making 15 appearances for them in 2022.

The PNG side have proved so far that they are one not to be messed with and hopefully Super League can see more of these stars in years to come.