Understated PNG loom as World Cup threat

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 Understated PNG loom as World Cup threat
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Short of star power, but big on heart, Papua New Guinea loom as the joker in the pack of the last eight of the Rugby League World Cup.

The Kumuls must travel to Wigan on Saturday (Sunday AEDT) where they will be aiming to knock tournament hosts England out at the quarter-final stage.

PNG can only call on a handful of NRL players compared to the other Pacific nations but the experience many of them have from playing together in the Queensland Cup's PNG Hunters is a big advantage.

Both head coach Stanley Tepend and assistant Shane Flanagan have been able to maximise their talent to the point that they are more than the sum of their parts.

The Kumuls were thumped by England at this stage of the 2017 tournament but given how they pushed world No. 2 Tonga to the wire in week one of this year's World Cup, they will feel confident of ending the hosts' run to the final.

"I think we've learned from what happened in 2017," said Tepend.

"The players are now a lot smarter and a lot younger. In their respective clubs, they all had good seasons.

"Back in 2017, I think we relied on a few individuals but now it's more of a team effort."

It is also helped that the Kumuls have a functional and settled spine, compared to many other national teams thrown together at the last minute.

Hooker Edwin Ipape is a key cog in the Kumuls' attack and has played with PNG halfback Lachlan Lam all season at Leigh to win promotion to the Super League.

"I did everything I could to get him over to England," said Leigh coach Adrian Lam.

"He was up in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea doing nothing, not working but he's really started to get some belief and confidence.

"I can't imagine how good he's going to be in two or three years. I think the world will get to know him over the next 12 months if they don't already." 


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