Former NSW Origin forward Jack de Belin will reunite with new Papua New Guinea coach Justin Holbrook after being selected in the Kumuls squad for the upcoming Pacific Championships.
Holbrook coached de Belin at St George Illawarra when the former St Helens and Gold Coast Titans mentor was starting his coaching career with the Dragons NYC under 20s team in 2012.
De Belin, whose grandmother Aileen Leary was born in PNG while her parents were serving as missionaries, has been considering declaring his eligibility for the Kumuls since the 2013 World Cup, when Adrian Lam was in charge of the team.
Lam coached de Belin in his first season with the Dragons in 2011 and alerted him of his eligibility for the Kumuls but the now 32-year-old felt at the time that he didn’t know enough about his heritage
However, de Belin discussed his interest in representing PNG before last year’s World Cup with assistant coach John Wilshire and following the appointment of Holbrook he is now set to make his Test debut for the Kumuls.
The Dragons lock is one of seven NRL players in the PNG squad to play Cook Islands on October 15 and Fiji on October 29 in Port Moresby, including South Sydney’s Alex Johnston and Melbourne’s Justin Olam.
Match Highlights: Kumuls v Wales
Dragons second-rower Dan Russell, Titans forward Jacok Alick and Cowboys pair Zac Laybutt and Robert Derby were also named in the squad.
Other notable selections include Leigh halfback Lachlan Lam and hooker Edwin Ipape, who were both named in the Super League team of the year.
Lam also won the 2023 Rugby League Writers and Broadcasters Association player of the year award.
Leeds second-rower Rhyse Martin, who captained the Kumuls at last year's World Cup, and winger Nene Macdonald are also in the squad, along with Castleford pair Liam Horne and Nixon Putt.
Match: PNG Kumuls v Cook Islands Aitu
Week 1 -
Cook Islands Aitu
Venue: Santos National Football Stadium, Port Moresby
Meanwhile, the PNGRFL has announced the appointment of Tony Archer to
head up Competition Governance and Match Officials.
PNGRFL CEO Stanley Hondina said Archer’s appointment was another significant step forward for the game in PNG following Holbrook's decision to take on the Kumuls role and Joe Grima’s appointment as Head of Player Pathways.
The passion for the game in the country has again been on show in recent months, with sell-out crowds for the Digicel Exxon Mobil Cup finals series and the recent PM’s XIII weekend.
PM’s XIII PNG v AUS
Archer, whose current role with the NRL includes Education, Development and Pathways for match officials, refereed 295 NRL matches from 1999 to 2012, including six consecutive grand finals.
His representative career was also decorated, with Archer refereeing 13 State of Origin matches and nine internationals, including the 2008 World Cup and 2010 Four Nations decider.
Retiring after the 2012 grand final, Archer moved into the coaching of officials, and in late 2013 he took over from Daniel Anderson as Referees Elite Performance Manager, which he held between 2014 and 2018.
In 2017, he led the Officials for the Rugby League World Cup.
“Officiating and Competition Governance is an incredibly important part of the game and to have someone of Tony’s experience and expertise head up that area for PNG is tremendous news,” Hondina said.
“We are looking to create the best possible pathways for our players and that requires high quality officiating and professional competition governance from the grass roots all the way through to the senior level.
“Tony has performed this role successfully with the NRL, and he will bring a wealth of knowledge and ideas that will help us create a new generation of officials for both the men’s and women’s programs going forward.
“We look forward to Tony starting with us in the coming weeks."