Last month, during the Parramatta Eels off-season break, Blue & Gold hooker Kaysa Pritchard, along with brother and former Eel Frank Pritchard and former Eel Reni Maitua, took the opportunity to visit the far flung tropical islands of Papua New Guinea to do some community activities and sightseeing during their break.
The week long visit to New Ireland Province involved a stopover in Port Moresby and further flights to Kokopo in New Britain Province before landing in Kavieng New Ireland Province with the players participating in rugby league skills and drills, learning about the PNG lifestyle and culture and assisting with physical tasks to assist the communities they visited.
A trip organised through the NRL, through a pre-existing community relationship with the Bulldogs, Kaysa Pritchard jumped at the opportunity to join the experience with the former Eels and Bulldogs.
“Steve Pike organised the trip and Frankie just asked me one day, over the break, if I wanted to go over to PNG to spread the game of rugby league, see the kids over there and help out and lend a hand,” Pritchard said.
“I was keen straight away. It was an eye opening experience because I didn’t think it was going to be anything like that.”
“It felt like home going there, with similar traits to Samoa. I literally felt like I was home.”
The start of the visit saw the trio venture down the Boluminski Highway and stop off at Laraibana village to visit the famous eels that live in the fresh stream. Years of feeding has seen these tame eels grow up to 2 meters in length and the visitors ensured that the boys toes and fingers weren’t left for the eels to nibble on!
A further drive down the coast saw visits to schools at Karu and Namatanai. The schools are over 3 hours drive from the main town of Kavieng so the students were excited to see rugby league stars and were quickly out throwing footballs and learning the finer details of rugby league. Whilst most of the boys had a grasp of the basic skills it was the girls who embraced the game and weren’t afraid to mix it with the boys in the game of touch that closed off each clinic. Initially shy, the young students soon found their voices and cheerful spirit after a bit of coaxing by Frank Pritchard who relished the opportunity to re-live his NRL skills.
“When we landed, we got a warm welcoming by the locals there. Rhondi and Leo run a school over there, and the Bulldogs had been there previously over the last couple of years helping build classrooms, but they were awesome, looking after us over the time we stayed there,” Pritchard said reflecting on the trip.
“It wasn’t just rugby league when we went over there. One of the days we went on a remote drive, from about four hours from where we were staying and we went out there to visit some remote schools.”
“We visited a boys boarding school and a girls boarding school, and even though they had finished school, they came to see us. They were a bit shy at first and just rolling through the motions, but Frankie got them going and once they got going, we couldn’t stop them! They wanted to play touch footy, and it was pouring down rain and they just didn’t want to stop playing. It was only because we had to leave, due to another commitment somewhere else that they stopped, otherwise we would of played all night!” he recalled.
The Namatanai Secondary School teenage students were a bit more advanced in their rugby league skills so the players amped up their clinic with NRL-like warm up, passing and defensive drills. A torrential downpour during the lively game of touch wasn’t enough to quell the enthusiasm of the teenagers, who would have kept playing into the night if the game wasn’t stopped after almost 2 hours of play.
The boys were then put to good use, cleaning up 2 wards and re-painting the walls and ceilings at the health centre at Lemakot which was in urgent need of remedial work.
The players then visited the Nehemiah Christian Academy on their return trip to Kavieng. The young students welcomed the crew with a traditional sing sing and prayers and enthusiastically joined the players in a game of pass the ball. The school is located on the coastline, meaning the boys had the luxury of rolling surf as a background and touched off the morning with mud crabs, fresh fruit and steamed fish for lunch.
The remote island of Enuk Island and their Community School also had a visit which included giveaways of caps, wristbands and a training shirt for a few of the luckier students. The obligatory game of bare foot touch footy was conducted in the midday sun before the guys had a pleasureable afternoon over at Lissenung Island.
“I will take away the memories of the people and just how awesome they were. Every single place we went to, they knew exactly who we were. We would travel hours, through the bush, and it was the little schools, of not even 100 kids, who would know recognise us,” Pritchard said.
“It will be something I will remember, the people, how awesome they were and just how much they love their footy.”
“And how they live, they have no problems in the world. You look at them and they have nothing, but they have everything.” He continued.
“It was just an awesome, eye-opening experience. They have nothing but they think they have everything and it’s just amazing.”
“And being able to do it with Reni and Frankie, it was awesome. They were great with the kids and hopefully we get to go on the trip again next year. I want to go back, even away from footy too, I would love to go back with my partner or my family.”