The Wan Papua Warriors rugby league team won the inaugural London Nines after going unbeaten through their six matches.
Formerly known as the West Papua Warriors, four Papua New Guinea-based players joined forces with expat New Zealand and Australian players from the local Wests Warriors club to take out the title, beating the London-based Spartans in the final 12-4, after both teams had topped their respective pools.
Captain Tala Kami said the victory made all the hard work in getting to the UK worthwhile.
“It was always a big challenge from the start, especially raising the funds, and we had a lot of people that were supporting us and got behind us,” he said.
“Thankfully the Wests Warriors were an amazing club that welcomed us into their family and allowed us to join up and (we) managed to take it out.”
Tala Kami said the two clubs have already talked about linking up again in future, although he admitted it took some adjustment blending two teams into one.
“Usually we‘re in charge of everything so we run our gameplan and we pick and choose how we‘re going to play the game so for the first time we had to kind of adapt to their gameplan,” he said.
“But there was no problem, they were all rugby league players know how to play the game so that was the only real challenge but apart from that they just welcomed us straight into their family and it was like playing with any one of the boys from home,” he said.
The team was hosted by the Chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, Benny Wenda, in Oxford during the tournament and Tala Kami said their success will help them to raise more awareness about the situation in the Indonesian province.
“First and foremost we‘re rugby league players but we‘re playing for a cause so we take the game very seriously, we take our training seriously and we always make sure we‘re prepared when it comes to these tournaments,” said Kami.
“At the end of the day people like winners so the more we win the more people support us and the more exposure we get for the cause so we always know that as long as we can put it good performances and and hopefully win it‘s a good thing for the cause, as well as for ourselves.”
“We‘ve just strengthened this new bond with Benny Wenda and his son who are based over here and it‘s allowed us now to reach out to so many more people across the world,” he said.
“It has just kind of legitimised what we do because to have people like Benny supporting us, so it‘s definitely pushed us to the next level in terms of global reach.”
Tala Kami says the Warriors haven‘t ruled out defending their title in Serbia next year, while their next focus is the Kokomo Nines in Queensland in September.