Paul Sculthorpe tells England Knights to expect raucous welcome in PNG
England's budding internationals can expect to be mobbed when they land in Papua New Guinea for their two-match tour, former St Helens star Paul Sculthorpe says.
Sculthore, who is assistant to head coach Paul Anderson with the England Knights, made his Test debut against the Kumuls in front of a baying 10,000 crowd in Lae on the 1996 Great Britain tour to the southern hemisphere and it has left an indelible mark on him.
“It was a real experience,” he said. “You’re out of your comfort zone in a hostile environment.
“They are so passionate about rugby league, they want to touch you, they want gear off you.
“It’s their national game and they do mob you because it’s not often they get to see visitors coming in.
“They probably made it a bit more scary than it was because we got changed in the hotel, we had our massage, strapping, everything in our hotel and got the bus down in our kit.
“It was off the bus, on the field and play. And then, as soon as the final whistle has gone, you run off the field and get back on the bus as quick as you can.
“But I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m really looking forward to going back.”
The Knights, created in 2011 to bridge the gap between Super League and Test match football, are back in business after a five-year absence.
The 24-strong playing group arrived in Brisbane on Friday and will fly out to the islands next Thursday to finalise preparations for the internationals in Lae next Saturday and Port Moresby a week later.
The Kumuls draw bumper crowds for the annual visit of the Australian Prime Minister’s XIII and Ireland and Wales played in front of full houses during the 2017 World Cup in Port Moresby.
“I’m sure it’s changed, like all places, in the last 22 years, but it’s still very primitive,” Sculthorpe said.
“It’s the reason we picked PNG for this group of players, giving them that stepping stone between Super League and the senior internationals and taking them out of their comfort zone.
“Because we didn’t have London in Super League and they go to Catalans and back on the day now, teams are not used to staying in hotels and being around each other.
“We’re throwing a challenge out there for the boys and it’s going to be tough on the field. It’s going to be physical, they’re going to be tearing out of the line and trying to whack you.
“It will be 30-odd degrees and wet as well, it’s 98 per cent humidity, they’ll be gasping for oxygen no doubt at times. It’s something different for them.”
Four members of the squad - Jamie Shaul, Oliver Holmes, Robbie Mulhern and Liam Sutcliffe - got an early taste of senior international football against France at Leigh on Wednesday in the build-up to the 2021 and even the 2025 World Cup.
“It’s very exciting,” Sculthorpe said. “I’m thrilled to be part of this squad.
“This is a tournament where we can get a read on the players for the next level.”