PIC: Joshua Paiyo receives offload from Cruise Ten
Wow. This Queensland Pacific Island Cultural Carnival Championship title win was one for the history books.
In previous years, the then much smaller PNG pack had been well and truly beaten. In fact, they hadn’t won a single game in the QPICC tournament. In the previous three years they had pitted themselves against the other, much bigger, packs from the Pacific Island nations, including the Maoris, Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, Tokelau and the Australian Indigenous squads. But the boys, even back then, showed real fight following the QLD PNG creed of ‘never, ever, ever giving up’.
This year, the gap between the physical size of the QLD PNG Kokomos small, but mobile pack, had closed to a degree. However, the opposition from all the other island nations still had the wood on the Kokomos u16s in the size department.
There is no doubt that all the other island nations, including new entrant Niue, had taken a good look at the draw and had marked PNG down as an easy win in their ledger.
The QPICC Carnival weekend is a three day event. The U16s draw had them in the opening timeslot on the Friday night. The team had gotten off to a slow start allowing Samoa to put on a 16 – 0 lead over the Kokomos boys but the second half showed a more cohesive, more up tempo game and glimpses of some real team brilliance that resulted in tries by Josh Paiyo and Cruise Ten and they were able to bring the score back to a more respectable PNG 10 to Samoa 20.
The warm Friday night gave no indication of the high temperatures and relentless dry heat that sapped the energy of all teams over the next two days. As Saturday morning dawned, however, it was clear that the Kokomos boys would have to battle not just their classy opponents but the relentless heat in order to claim the QPICC title.
After the first round loss the boys had to win against Tonga in order to qualify for the semi-finals the following day. In the trial games, just weeks earlier, the Tongan boys had beaten the Kokomos 22-14, so they knew a win, though a tough ask, was possible if they pulled it all together. And pull it together they did.
Pic: Martin Pascoe and Ashley Faulkner pull off a try saving tackle.
The PNG Kokomos beat Tonga 20 to 10. The PNG U16s had earned a berth in the first semi-final against the tournament favourites, the QLD Maoris, the following day.
The boys knew that the Maoris were going to be a real challenge and they rose to meet it. They pulled together to bundle the favourites out of the tournament. The 28-18 victory put PNG into the championship final. But a it was a physically tough encounter in extreme heat and it was obvious the boys had little left in the tank.
The final encounter, against Niue was going to be a gruelling encounter. It was just an hour later, in the middle of the day and the relentless heat showed no sign of abating, and the Nuiean team was chock full of state representative players.
PNG usually started most games slowly which often saw the opposition score early and left PNG scrambling to overcome their opponents. This time they got the drop early on Niue, courtesy of a brilliant try from Martin Pascoe. Jarone Han-Clunn made sure of the extras putting PNG in the lead 6 to nil.
Bustling runs from Cruise Ten, Winston Daki and Joshua Paiyo had the Kokomos back on the attack and put them in position to strike again. This time it was Aydhen Herd who put the points on the board, with Han-Clunn again adding the two points. The Kokomos were now 12 to nil over their Niuean opponents.
Bodhi Banister kicked the ball into the corner and Niue returned with a pacey run down the sideline but Kokomo’s Ashley Faulkner ran him down to pull off a try saving tackle. The next play again looked to be a certain Niue try when Martin Pascoe, pulled of a second try saving tackle and made sure to take his Niuean opponent over the sideline.
PNG took the ball back to within striking distance of the try line. In a last tackle play, Joshua Paiyo punched through the defence and offloaded to Cruise Ten but the Niuean defence held firm and were able to crack the PNG defence to score with the score now PNG 12 to Niue 6.
Pic: Cruise Ten, Trae O’Reilly, Aydhen Herd keep Niue from scoring.
Nuie scored again but were unable to convert. They had clawed their way back to within two points of PNG. The score 12 -10. The heat was really taking a toll on all the players, though neither team was prepared to give in. By half time PNG had conceded another try to Niue and the PNG side went into the break down by 4 points.
In the half time break the boys sought relief from the sun in what little shade was available while Coach, Matt Muir, implored the boys to stick to their game plan and dig deep.
In the second half, Winston Daki made an early break and this was followed up by PNG’s Udom Wala making a run down the sideline but was unfortunately taken out over the sideline.
Joshua Paiyo made another line-busting run and looked to have scored but the referee called it a knock on.
PNG took another hit when Niue scored again but were unable to convert. The score was now a somewhat worrying PNG 12 – Niue 20.
Matthew Korilio put PNG back in the game, creating a try from virtually nothing from 20 metres out, stepping and weaving his way through a sea of Niuean defenders to put another Kokomos try on the board. Aydhen Herd slotted the ball through the posts.
The score was now PNG 18 – Niue 20 and despite the heat it was game on.
Pic: Martin Pascoe on the attack.
The Kokomos boys pulled it together and dug deep. Niue’s game became prone to errors including dropping the ball cold.
PNG piled on the pressure and again put themselves within striking distance of the line and Bodhi Banister put through a grubber and Udom Wala outrun his opponents to score the championship winning try in corner. Aydhen Herd missed the kick. When the full time siren went some seconds later the score was PNG 22-20.
The U16s Best and Fairest, as voted by QLD PNG, was Joshua Paiyo, son of Kumul hooker, Elias Paiyo, who conceded his 22 year World Cup point scoring (1995 vs Tonga in Hull England, 12 points) record to Rhyse Martin, in the Kumuls 50-6 victory over Wales. The U16s Player of the Carnival, as voted by the referees, was Martin Pascoe, a rugby union player whose of first game of rugby league was, incredibly, the week before the QPICC carnival in a trial match against the Cook Islands.
The U16s Queensland Pacific Island Cultural Carnival Championship win was an incredible victory for the Kokomos. A victory over their history, a victory over the heat, a victory for playing for each other as a PNG team and a victory for ‘never, ever, ever giving up’.
Co-Captains Cruise Ten and Joshua Paiyo, who was also voted Best & Fairest, with the
2017 QPICC Championship Trophy and QLD PNG President, Tom Adamson.
2017 U16s QPICC MVP – Martin Pascoe