Jeffries excited by young talent in PNG World Cup squad

Published by IntRL
23 Aug 2022

Papua New Guinea Orchids coach Ben Jeffries believes young playmakers Lila Malabag and Elizabeth Kapa could be the nation's long term halves pairing after naming them in a 23-player squad for the World Cup.

Malabag debuted against England in 2019 while Kapa has emerged from the PNG schoolgirls’ competition and Jeffries said they would vie with veteran Shirley Joe for the playmaking roles at the upcoming World Cup in England.

Joe is just one of four survivors from the 2017 World Cup, along with Carol Humeu, Gloria Kaupa and Vero Waula, in a squad which includes 11 debutants.

St George Illawarra prop Elsie Albert is one of four players with NRLW experience, including former Dragons team-mate Shellie Long, ex-Eels hooker Therese Aiton and former Broncos prop Jessikah Reeves, who has previously represented Queensland Under 18s.

Jeffries said he was looking to nurture talent that can represent the Orchids for years to come and two-thirds of the squad, which has an average age of 25, is based in PNG across three regions - Southern, Highlands and Northern.

“It’s exciting that we have several debutants combined with some experienced Orchids players, including a handful that return from RLWC2017,” Jeffries said. “Those returning players will be critical for the younger players within the group.

"The reality is that this could be the last opportunity for some players to represent the Orchids, so the expectation of these players is to assist in nurturing the younger players whilst competing for their positions from game to game.”

“All Australia-based players have been monitored through the Queensland and New South Wales women’s competitions, and it is pivotal to recognise players like Elsie Albert, Shellie Long, Jessikah Reeves and Therese Aiton will assist in creating high standards within the Orchids team.”

“In terms of new talent, we have two exciting young halves in Lila Malabag, who debuted against England in 2019 and Elizabeth Kapa, who came straight out of the schoolgirls’ competition.
"They could potentially be long-term halves for the Orchids and will work with the evergreen Shirley Joe, who was the try-scoring hero in the 2019 victory over England.
"In addition, dual-code international Joanne Lagona has been a standout player throughout this process and has played in every major PNG based competition and trial leading up to this selection.”

The 23-player squad is:
Bethshiba AWOI
Elizabeth KAPA
Essay BANU
Gloria KAUPA
Jessikah REEVES
Lisa-Marie ALU
Michelle JOHN
Roswita KAPO
Sareka MOOKA*
Shae-Yvonne DE LA CRUZ
Shellie LONG
Shirley JOE
Therese AITON

*Sareka Mooka’s selection is subject to final confirmation of eligibility.
There are nine stand-by players who will be considered to replace any players who are forced to withdraw from the squad.
They are: Delilah Ahose (Highlands, PNG), Emily Veivers (Tigers – QRLW, Australia), Gemma Schnaubeit (Souths – QRLW, Australia), Jessica Carey (Tigers – QRLW, Australia). Layna Nona-Busch (Rabbitohs – Western Australia, Australia), Leilah Kerowa (Southern, PNG), Melli Joe (Highlands, PNG), Regila Wilfred (Highlands, PNG), Ua Ravu (Bulls – NSW Country, Australia).

“We also extend our appreciation to the head coach Ben Jefferies and his team for a great effort and outcome getting this far," PNG CEO Stanley Hondina said.

"We started off with the 'Road to the World Cup' concept when we realised our girls were disadvantaged as they don’t have a systematic process to pick the team like our male structure.

“Thanks to our sponsors and partners, Santos, Digicel, National Gaming Control Board, Bank South Pacific and PacificAus Sports for the support provided to us to have the monitoring (test and trial program), tri series and the possible vs probable matches played to use as the platform to select the side.

“We are confident of the selected squad and the depth of experience we have in our coaching staff and know they will do PNG proud.

"We wish them all the best in the preparations, Prime Minister’s 13 and the RLWC campaign as the nation and lovers of the sport stand behind you in this journey.

PNG Orchids chairlady Okaro Yogi was pleased with the selection of the Orchids team that will prepare for the World Cup.

“Congratulations ladies! You have all proven through your own individual merits to be named in the final squad," she said. "I know you all will wear the Santos PNG Orchids jersey with pride and make us all proud. We will all be cheering you all on.

“I would like to thank the coaching staff and coach Ben Jeffries for prepping and selecting the final squad.

"The preparation and campaign for RLWC 2021 would not have become a reality without the support of our major sponsors who have believed in us and what we stand for – an equal playing field for men and women.

The squad selection comes at the end of a months-long process of talent identification by Jeffries and PNG-based Orchids staff, including a PNG-based nines competition, July’s tri-series (featuring three teams of PNG-resident eligible players) and a trial match in Port Moresby earlier this month (featuring the top 34 PNG-based players), as well as an ongoing monitoring program of potential Orchids based overseas.