Australians who flocked to Wau-Bulolo during the 1930s gold rush played rugby as a distraction. It was only a very short time before the game was put on an organised footing by staff from business houses in Port Moresby. The first two clubs, Paga and Magani were founded in the mid-1940s from supporters of rival Australian states, New South Wales and Queensland.
For twenty years rugby was an expatriates game. In the 1960s it suddenly picked up as a national game, some say because the Highlanders got involved. It suited their aggressive natures and was more respectable than fighting! Papua New Guineans immediately showed a natural talent for rugby. An annual Papua versus New Guinea match provided some great moments until it was phased out in 1973 in favour of a four-zone competition, Southern, Highlands, Northern and New Guinea Islands.
In 1974 the Papua New Guinea Rugby Football League, the controlling body of the code in the country was formed and PN G became an associate member of the International Board. PNG has to fulfil its share of international commitments, including hosting Test matches and touring abroad. It also plays ‘friendlies’ with its nearest neighbours Australia and New Zealand and other South Pacific Ocean neighbours such as Fiji.
Since 1991 the ‘in’ competition has been the semiprofessional Inter-City Cup competition. It has proved a showpiece for the best talent from clubs all around the country. For the future there is a plan to put rugby back into the schools by maintaining a schoolboys competition and helping administer local fixtures.
The national team is dubbed the KUMULS – pronounced Coomools – a Pidgin word for a black Bird of Paradise. The Kumuls have bested all other International board countries except Australia. But as one official pointed out “We’re working on it”.