Wellington Albert – Widnes’ new PNG star bringing two unlikely communities together

When Wellington Albert first decided to take up Rugby League, it was frowned upon by his father.

“Three times he tore up the consent form in front of me and told me no rugby,” says the Widnes Vikings star, the second-youngest of six children in the household in a remote village near Mendi, capital of Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands province.

His elder siblings had all obliged their father, studying hard at school before heading to university.

But Albert had different aspirations. His passion was sport, and more specifically, Rugby League.

“Growing up I wanted to do different things to my older brothers and sisters,” explains the 23-year-old, who along with younger brother and fellow Widnes player Stanton Albert, starred for PNG in last year’s World Cup.

“I would keep bringing it up all the time, but my father kept saying no and telling me to concentrate on my studies.

“The fourth time I got a consent form, my older brother was there, and instead of asking my dad, he signed it.

“He’s a doctor, and he told my dad if anything happened to me he would fix it, because he had been learning how to fix people.

“My dad said: ‘Okay, but if anything happens to your brother, you can fix him’.

“That was it, I could play Rugby League.”

Over time, his father’s stance softened as it became increasingly apparent both his youngest sons had real talent in the 13-a-side code.

“Dads always want their sons to be successful, so when I did well at sport, it changed his attitude,” adds Albert.

The former PNG Hunters and Penrith Panthers player has plenty to thank his people-fixing brother for, because not only did his signature give him his chance to play the game he loves, it also allowed him to travel the world and experience a lifestyle that’s a far cry from his days living at home with his mother and father, a carpenter.

“Growing up, we were in a little village. We didn’t live in houses built of bricks, it was bushes and trees and stuff like that. There were no cars. Our food was just vegetables,” he says.

Soon, after graduating from PNG’s domestic competition to the Hunters, who play in Australia’s second tier, he was in Sydney at Penrith, as he and 22-year-old Stanton, a prop, tried to crack the NRL.

“When I went to Sydney, it shocked me. The life is so different, everything is different, it’s 100 steps different,” he explains.

“I’m just so grateful I made my decision to play Rugby League which has carried me around the world.”

Soon, another opportunity, and another new life, opened up to him.

Widnes, impressed by his World Cup performances, made him an offer to move to the UK.

Albert agreed to move alongside his close friend and fellow PNG international Kato Ottio.

However tragedy struck.

Just two days before the pair were due to fly to the UK, Ottio died at just 23 after collapsing while training with PNG Hunters.

It remains a desperately painful memory for Albert.

“I still miss him,” he says, taking a deep breath to collect himself.

“We were doing everything together. Back home, myself and Kato got closer because we played together. He was my close mate.

“When we signed for Widnes, we were together all the time. Every day we would get up and spend time with each other.

“Then his passing came and it really shocked me. I was really sad.

“It’s been a big challenge for me to come to Widnes because we should have come together and made our debuts in Super League together. But he’s not here.

“To honour him and represent his family, it’s a bit of pressure for me to perform every week, be consistent and represent him and the people back home.”

It’s often the case that tragedies bring different communities together, in this case, Papua New Guinea and the town of Widnes, which are some 9,000 miles apart.

“The club did great things after Kato passed away,” he explains. “I knew I’d be homesick and would be missing him, but the club signed Stanton straight away. I’m really happy about that.

“When I ran out for my debut, I saw about ten Papua New Guinea flags around the stadium. I thought to myself: ‘Where am I? Am I playing in a PNG game?’

“My eyes were filled with tears. It was emotional to see my flag in a foreign land, and the people holding the flags were not from Papua New Guinea.

“It was a really great thing. I love the people here, they are lovely and good people.

“Back home, they have stopped supporting the NRL teams, they are all going for Widnes.

“They all keep asking me when the Widnes merchandise is coming. They all want to buy it. People are going crazy for the team.

“When I go anywhere in Widnes, people recognise me and say hello.

“I really like this place. I’m really happy for the things they have done for Kato’s family, raising money for him and all that. I can’t thank enough the club and the fans who have contributed.”

Albert’s overriding feeling towards his club is one of gratitude.

Not only have they provided him with a new life, a new opportunity to live his dream – they have also respected his country and culture.

Now he wants to repay them.

“I like the people and the little town, I want to do well for them,” he concludes.

“I’m focused on training hard, doing the small things properly. If I train hard every day, and perform consistently for Widnes, I will be happy.”