Australian rules football in Papua New Guinea

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Australian rules football in Papua New Guinea
Png victory 3.jpg
Papua New Guinea's Mosquitos celebrate taking the International Cup from New Zealand to become International champions in 2008.
Country Papua New Guinea
Governing body PNG Rules Football Council
National team Papua New Guinea
First played 1944, Lae
Registered players 1,920 (adult)
Club competitions
Goroka Football League
Kimbe Football League
Lae Football League
Mt Hagen Football League
Port Moresby Football League
Rabaul Football League
Eastern Highlands Rules Football League
Audience records
Single match 7,500 (2009) Central Highlands vs Flying Boomerangs (Indigenous tour of PNG) Lae[1]

Australian rules football in Papua New Guinea is a developing team sport which was initially introduced by Australian servicemen. The sport has a long and somewhat shaky history, but has recently achieved big strides in the Papua New Guinea community and is now the second most popular sport after rugby league.

The Papua New Guinea national Australian rules football team have been grand finalists in all AFL International Cups and won the 2008 Australian Football International Cup and 2014 AFL International Cup.

Players of Papua New Guinean heritage have played professionally in the Australian Football League, the most famous of which is "king" Mal Michael. In 2010, at least 4 players had been recruited from Papua New Guinea to AFL lists. A larger number of players of Papua New Guinean origin now participate in semi-professional state leagues around Australia. The AFL has established a pathway from PNG to the AFL mainly through Queensland but more recently through Tasmania.

The game is covered by both the The National and Papua New Guinea Post-Courier newspapers.

In PNG, the sport is typically referred to as "AFL", but also as "rules", "rules football" or "AFL rules".


Early Beginnings[edit]

Australian Rules was introduced to Papua New Guinea in the 1944 by Australian school teachers and defence force personnel in Lae and Nagada.[2] At the time, Papua New Guinea was an Australian territory.

In November 1945, a match was played between Victoria and "The Rest" at Torokina, Bougainville.[3]

A competition was played in Rabaul, New Britain in 1946 between servicemen, including the 29/46th infantry battalion, who played several matches against sides from New Guinea and New Britain.[4]

Rapid Growth[edit]

The sport experienced rapid growth and during the 1960s, the New Guinea National Football League ran in both Port Moresby and Lae.[5]

One of the Australian personnel teams (22nd works company) credited with introducing the sport to Lae, New Guinea in early 1944

During the 1970s there was an annual competition against a team from the Gold Coast, Queensland.

In 1973, an Indigenous Australian side toured Papua New Guinea, led by Roger Rigney, an Indigenous player from South Australian National Football League (SANFL) club Sturt.

In 1974, PNG players Vili Maha and Gimana Guma trialled with the South Melbourne Football Club.

1977 was an historic year for Papua New Guinean football. The year saw the first ever international matches involving Australia at under 17 level between the Victoria Under 17 team (the reigning Australian Champions) and Papua New Guinea. The following year the PNG team reciprocated in Adelaide, with the Australian teams winning both matches.[6]

The VFL appointed Peter Evans as full-time manager in 1978/79 he VFL appointed a full-time manager for the PNG Rules Council.

PNG fielded a team in the 1979 Teal Cup (Australian Under 17 Championship) in Hobart.

80s Decline[edit]

The game suffered greatly through the 1980s with the popularity of rugby league on television, particularly the New South Wales Rugby League and Rugby League State of Origin matches between Queensland and New South Wales. Apart from the VFL Grand Final, Australian Rules matches during the 1980s were rarely televised.

The sport however continued to be played with a small base of dedicated but ageing senior players. At points the game's administration went close to liquidation. The nearby Australian Rules administration body in Cairns stepped in and commencing in 1990 there was regular competition against teams from the Cairns Australian Football League.

Australian football had not been played officially in Rabaul since 1992, and efforts to revive the code were overshadowed by the 1994 volcanic eruption.


PNG's senior national team, the Mosquitoes, competed for the first time at the 1995 Arafura Games in Darwin, Northern Territory. The "Mosquitos" were a success, winning the gold medal by defeating New Zealand in the Grand Final. PNG players named in the World Team named at the tournament were George Kava, Willie Lipou, Thomas Gori and Tony Megea.

In 1995, after PNG's success at the Arafura Games, Ed Biggs from the then Australian Football Foundation (AFF) and Ian Collins from the AFL visited all the major Australian football centres in PNG and had discussions with officials.

PNG Rules Football Council officials were advised to draw up a three-year development plan to qualify for football development assistance. The plan was to include a summary of the current state of Rules Football in PNG, a management structure, facilities improvement, development proposals and financial estimates.

In August 1996 the Mosquitoes travelled to Perth as part of the AFL Centenary Celebrations. They played a match against the Central Desert Eagles as a curtain raiser to a West Coast Eagles v. Carlton match. PNG 21.22 (148) defeated the Central Desert Eagles 5.8 (38).

PNG defended their Gold Medal at the 1997 Arafura Games, defeating New Zealand 14.9 (93) to 9.6 (60) in the final. PNG also played against the NTFL, Australian Defence Force and Central Desert Eagles as well as their international counterparts. PNG players named in the 1997 World Team were Gibson Isaiah, George Kaore, David Lucas and Willie Lipou.

In 1999 PNG again defeated New Zealand in the final at the Arafura Games. In the same year, a record 5,000 spectators attended the Wests vs Koboni Grand Final in Port Moresby.

The Game Booms[edit]

In 2000 the AFL sent a Development Officer, Andrew Cadzow, to PNG. Based in Port Moresby, Cadzow also visited other regional centres.

AFL PNG was established in August 2001. AFL PNG is the representative of the AFL in PNG and has been incorporated to coordinate, support and operate Junior Development and Community-based programs relating to AFL footy in PNG. Scott Reid, Salvatore Algeri and Mel Togolo are the current Directors of AFL PNG and are responsible for establishing and promoting AFL Junior Development Programs in PNG.

PNG born Mal Michael participated in the first of three premierships with the Brisbane Lions in 2001, boosting the popularity of football enormously in the country.

In 2002, the Mosquitos finished second behind Ireland in the inaugural Australian Football International Cup.

In 2003, Alister Sioni won the AFL PNG Elite Scholarship and trained with the Brisbane Lions between 11 November and 23 December.

2005 was a big year for football in PNG. In the International Cup, the Mosquitos finished in second place behind New Zealand.

Also in 2005, AFL Queensland took AFL PNG "under its wing" to provide a pathway for PNG players to the AFL. Queensland is one of the nearest and most populous Australian states, and a result, there are now many junior and senior PNG players participating in Queensland state championships and clubs.[7] Additional funding came from Queensland since, and the Mal Michael Foundation was established in the same year to further foster PNG talent.

In October 2006, the national junior Women's Footy (U16) team, the "Karakums" became the first ever female contact sport side to represent PNG.[8]

In 2006, Papua New Guinea under 16s again won the U16s Queensland Country Championships, defeating Cairns in the Grand Final.[9] Several PNG players were selected to represent the Country Kookaburras U16s squad which lost the Grand Final to the Northern Raiders.[10] Port Moresby’s Stanis Susave, became the first player from Papua New Guinea to represent the Queensland Scorpions in the under 16s.[11]

In 2007, U16 Bintangs were invited to the all-Queensland state championships, managing one win out of three by defeating the AFLQ Colts. The U14s followed.

In November, the PNG girls Under 17 squad went through the QLD state championships undefeated to take the title outright. Only Cape York were able to register a score against the junior Karakums.[12]

Outstanding PNG juniors Stanis Susuve and John James were invited to the AFL/AIS Draft Camp in November 2007.[13]

Several players to learn the game in PNG began reaching senior level in Australia in various regional and state leagues in 2007. During the year, 13 Papua New Guinean players represented the Coolangatta-Tweed Heads AFC at senior level in Division 2 of the Queensland State League since 2000, with five playing in the senior team in 2007 - David Evertius, Donald Barry, Johnny James, Emmaus Wartovo and Ali Pinda. Donald Barry, Elijah Baruai[14] and Bergmann Talingapua[15] were all recruited from PNG in 2007 to play for the Manunda Hawks in the AFL Cairns competition.

The expanding program has also seen several PNG players introduced the Sunshine Coast league[16] including Emmanuel Tupia, John Vogae, Gary Kiele and Peter Labi in 2009.[17]

In March 2008, John James became the first player from Papua New Guinea to represent Queensland in the Under 18 National Championships.[18]

In September 2008, the Mosquitos took out the International Cup in a thriller against New Zealand.

In November 2008, 17-year-old Tianen Carbry was invited to the AIS/AFL academy.[19]

In January 2009, 17-year-old Amua Parika was signed by the Gold Coast Football Club to play in the AFL.[20] He was followed shortly after by the Gold Coast's signing of talented junior Stanis Susuve. Both players started as junior in PNG.

In October 2009, 17-year-old Peter Labi joined the Carlton Football Club on an international scholarship.[1]

Funding & Sponsorship[edit]

Despite having the second highest number of players and one of the highest junior participation growth rates for the sport in the world, the sport in Papua New Guinea receives one of the lowest allocations of funding from the AFL. The international governing body provides much lower funding than South Africa despite PNG being closer and has instead insisted that AFL PNG source funds through AusAID, however this has not been forthcoming.[21] In recent years, sponsors have helped fill the void left by a lack of AFL funding. AFL PNG survives on Australian private donations and a small group of sponsors.

Major development funding comes from the following primary sources, including:

Sponsor Sponsored Amount p/a (A$) Total Years
B-Mobile National junior programs 100,000 300,000 2009–2012
Australian Football League AFL PNG 45,000 2005-
Telekom PNG Senior national team 40,000 2008-
Oil Search Limited AFL PNG  ? 2006-

Leagues and Competitions[edit]

  • Goroka Football League
    • Apo Stars
    • Asaroka
    • Mt Kiss
    • UPNG Goroka
  • Kimbe Football League
    • Bali Hawks
    • Central Magpies
    • SBLC Buluma
    • Talkom
    • Tamara
    • True West
  • Lae Football League
  • Mt Hagen Football League
  • Port Moresby Football League
    • Port Moresby Dockers FC
    • Defence
    • Koboni
    • Tisa Jets
    • University Bulldogs
    • West
  • Rabaul Football League
    • Rabaul Bulldogs
    • Rabvol
    • Royals
    • Vunakanau
    • Vunapope Tigers
  • Eastern Highland Rules Football League

National Championships[edit]

Year, National Champion

  • 1995 Lae
  • 1996 NCD
  • 1997 NCD
  • 1998 NCD
  • 1999 NCD
  • 2000 Hoskins¹
  • 2001 ²
  • 2002 ²
  • 2003  ?
  • 2004 NCD
  • 2005 ²
  • 2006  ?

¹The national titles in 2000 attracted teams from Buka, Pomio, Rabaul, Kove, Hoskins, Kimbe, Lae, Mt Hagen and National Capital District (Port Moresby). ²There were no championships staged in 2001, 2002 (due to the International Cup) or 2005 (due to the International Cup).

National Teams[edit]

Papua New Guinea's national team line up for the national anthem at the 2008 International Cup in Melbourne

PNG's national team is the Mosquitoes.

They debuted in 1973 at Under 17 level against Australia but have not played Australia since.

The team were international champions when they won the 2008 Australian Football International Cup.

The team has also tasted success in the past with a gold medal in the Arafura Gamess and silver at both 2002 and 2005 International Cups.

The national women's team is known as the Karakums. They have competed in Australian provincial championships and the International Cup.

Governing Body[edit]

The governing body is the PNG Rules Football Council. The development body is AFL PNG.



AFL Highlights programs are shown on PNG television, including EM TV. Live matches are broadcast on ABC Asia Pacific.


Despite calls from Mal Michael to hold NAB Cup matches in Port Moresby,[22] to date no AFL level matches have ever been played in PNG, however Australian Rules matches played there sometimes still draw big crowds. The following are notable crowds for matches played in Papua New Guinea.

Attendance Date Match Teams Location Notes/References
7,500 2009 Central Highlands vs Flying Boomerangs (Indigenous tour of PNG) Lae, Papua New Guinea [1]
5,000 1999 Wests vs Koboni (AFL PNG Grand Final) Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea [23]
2,500 2009 PNG (U18) Kupundas vs Flying Boomerangs (Indigenous tour of PNG) University of Papua New Guinea Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea [1]

Notable players[edit]

PNG born Mal Michael playing for the Essendon Bombers in 2007
St Kilda's Jim Gwilt in 2009

Papua New Guineans have played professional and semi-professional Australian rules football in Australia, and have dominated the All-International amateur team for many years. More recently, AFL clubs have taken an interest in recruiting PNG talent.[24] However a major inhibitor for recruitment remains height, with many of the more talented players being under 176 cm which is typically considered too short for professional AFL.

Players in the AFL[edit]

Currently on an AFL senior or rookie list
Player VFL/AFL Years* VFL/AFL Matches* Connections to Papua New Guinea, References
Ben Sexton 1991–1996 43 Place of birth[25]
Mal Michael 1997–2008 238 Born Port Moresby, Papuan father[26]
James Gwilt 2005– 85 Papuan mother[27]
Gideon Simon 2013– 0 Papuan born and raised[28]
  • stats up to June 2009
  • Donald Barry - (177 cm 76 kg) born in PNG was drafted by the Brisbane Lions through its international rookie selection in 2009 although he was later delisted.[29] At junior level he played for both Coolangatta in the AFL Queensland State League and Manunda Hawks in AFL Cairns. He represented PNG at senior level in the 2008 International Cup team winning a premiership medal and was awarded the Norm Smith medal as the best player in the International Cup Grand Final and was selected as a half back the 2008 All-International squad.
  • Winis Imbi - born in PNG played a few reserves games for the Essendon Football Club in 1997 while playing for the Ballarat Rebels. He was promoted to the rookie list in 1998 and won the Bomber's reserves best and fairest. He was released by the club the following year.
  • David Meli - (175 cm 76 kg) born 11 Sep 1992 in PNG was drafted by Essendon Football Club through its international rookie list in 2009[30] Meli was a member of the international champion PNG Mosquitos at just 16 years of age. He played senior football at the age of 17 with the Southport Football Club. Meli was selected by n the 2009 Rookie Draft as an International Rookie. His father, Peter, won three Arafura Games titles with the Mosquitos and played in the 2002 International Cup Grand Final side.[31]
  • Amua Parika - (190 cm 80 kg) born in PNG, was signed by the Gold Coast Football Club in 2009[32] but later delisted. He represented Papua New Guinea in the Under 16 Queensland State Championships before starring in a senior Mosquitos while still just 17 where he gained a reputation as a goal kicking forward.
  • Stanis Susuve - (176 cm 88 kg) born in PNG in April 2009 became the second Papuan to be signed by the Gold Coast Football Club (after Amua Pirika) and the first internationally developed player to compete in the TAC Cup. He represented Queensland at both Under 16 and Under 18 level. He has played for the Suncoast Lions, the reserve side for the Brisbane Lions in the first division of the semi-professional Queensland State League, Queensland's premier Australian Football league.[33] He originally won a scholarship to play with the Zillmere Eagles in the same competition where he once kicked a haul of 15 goals in the reserve grade premiership and won the club's Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.[34][35] He was invited to the AFL/AIS Draft camp in 2007. Susuve represented PNG at senior level in the 2008 International Cup team where he received a premiership medal and was selected in the 2008 All-International squad.
  • Peter Labi - born in PNG was drafted by the Carlton Football Club through its international rookie list in 2009. He had previously Suncoast Lions (Brisbane Lions reserves) in 2008[36] and represented Papua New Guinea at the 2008 International Cup where he won a premiership medal.

Other Notable Players[edit]

  • Navu Maha - Maha trained with the South Melbourne Swans VFL team in Melbourne in the 1980s. He became captain of the Mosquitos during the 2002 and 2005 International Cups and two time All-International who has also represented Papua New Guinea in cricket.
  • Marcus Bai - an Aussie Rules junior who went on to become a standout rugby league player.
  • Alister Sioni - (185 cm 80 kg) a West New Britain player who won a scholarship and was invited to train with the Brisbane Lions in the pre-season of 2003, has also played in AFL Cairns seniors and was named in the 2005 All-International team.[37] He captained the Mosquitos for the 2008 International Cup where he received a premiership medal.
  • James Imbi - (180 cm) the younger brother of Winis Imbi was also born in PNG and played with Winis at Portland since 2005. After trying out with the Sturt Football Club in the South Australian National Football League in 2004, Imbi went to the Palmerston Football Club in the Northern Territory Football League where he plays in the off-season. By round 8, 2005, Imbi had led in the ABC NTFL player of the year count with 11 votes.[38] In 2007, like his brother, he won the Western Border Football League best and fairest.[39]
  • Jerry Frank - played 13 years for the Palmerston Football Club in the Northern Territory Football League as a defender before retiring in 2007. Born in Port Moresby to a Papuan father and Torres Strait Islands mother he was a member of eight NT representative sides and played against a number of AFL clubs including Collingwood, Fremantle, Brisbane and also WAFL clubs.[40]
  • John James - (179 cm 76 kg) a talented junior rugby league convert who graduated from Coolangatta in Queensland State League division 2 up to the Suncoast Lions (Brisbane Lions reserves), earning selection in the team of the year. In 2007, he represented Queensland Country at the Under 18 state titles and was invited to the AFL/AIS Draft camp.[41] James made an outstanding debut for Zillmere Eagles in 2008 and was nominated for the AFL Queensland Rising Star award.[42] He was rewarded for a consistent season, becoming the first player from Papua New Guinea to represent Queensland in the Under 18 National Championships.[18] He was named in the 2008 International Cup squad as an interchange player.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ 29/46th infantry battalion and 37/52nd infantry battalion played at Deslandes sports oval in front of a sizeable crowd of natives. Source 074980 Australian War Memorial
  3. ^ Australian War Memorial 099009
  4. ^ Australian War Memorial 099811
  5. ^>New Archived 1 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Guinea National Football League
  6. ^ Full Points Footy 1977 to 1980 Archived 10 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ AFL Queensland adopts AFL-PNG Archived 7 February 2006 at the Wayback Machine. Article from the National
  8. ^ AFL PNG :: pure AFL . . . purely Papua New Guinea Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ Binatangs dominate Queensland Country Championships Archived 25 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine. by Brett Northey for World Footy News 4 May 2006
  10. ^ Three PNG Under 18s selected for Country Kookaburras Archived 25 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine. by Brett Northey for World Footy News 3 May 200
  11. ^ Australia Post U16 Young Scorpions squad named[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ World Footy News - PNG U16 Girls are Qld State Champs! Archived 25 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ PNG Juniors at AFL/AIS Draft Camp Archived 25 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ AFL PNG :: pure AFL . . . purely Papua New Guinea Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ Footy recruit in trouble Archived 14 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ PNG teens to play footy for Nambour[permanent dead link] from the SunCoast daily
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 September 2012. Retrieved 2009-04-20. 
  18. ^ a b SportingPulse Homepage for AFL Queensland Archived 3 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  19. ^ International juniors head for AIS and Junior Oceania Cup Archived 25 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 February 2012. Retrieved 2009-01-30. 
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 May 2013. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  22. ^ Michael dreams of game in PNG Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  23. ^ IAFC
  24. ^ AFL clubs look to PNG for talent Archived 18 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine. from the Post Courier
  25. ^
  26. ^ AFL stars shine from
  27. ^ Gwilt trip: the road less travelled from The Australian
  28. ^
  29. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 November 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-09. 
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^ Coast sign PNG teen by Terry Wilson for 29 January 2009
  33. ^ Panthers crush Suncoast Archived 11 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  34. ^ Thank you Mum for everything[permanent dead link] from
  35. ^ PNG Players making their mark Archived 29 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  36. ^
  37. ^ International Cup's Mosquitoes' chance to follow idol
  38. ^ ABC NTFL Player of the Year
  39. ^ Mail Medalists 2007
  40. ^ Frank retires with nothing else to prove from
  41. ^ World Footy News - PNG Juniors at AFL/AIS Draft Camp
  42. ^ Future Coast stars to stake claims

External links[edit]