PENRITH Panthers star Jamie Soward and coach Steve Georgallis had nothing but praise for the fans and the National Football Stadium after their 20-12 victory over the Papua New Guinea Hunters on Saturday night.
“The facilities are unbelievable. You should be very proud of the ground that you built. Obviously, it’s going to help rugby league to be the number one sport in PNG if it isn’t already the number one sport,” coach Georgallis said.
“All over I thought it was a great day for PNG and rugby league here. The crowd was fantastic. We’ll definitely come back here to play again.”
Soward, a 212-game NRL veteran, played a half of the game and described the venue as being better than what they had at Penrith, and the fans as something he would not forget.
“Loved it. It was a fantastic experience for a lot of our younger guys who’ve never played in front of a crowd like that and it’s an experience I’ll never forget,” the 31-year-old playmaker said.
“What a way to open a national stadium. They’re (Hunters) going to be tough to beat here. We’re just very privileged to be here and get the win.
“We’re very grateful to everyone who made this game happen and hopefully we can have an NRL game up here real soon,” Soward, who was mobbed by fans on fence behind the in-goal area on several occasions during the game, said.
Despite a high error count from both sides that contributed to a scrappy game, the evening was hailed a success with Sports Minister Justin Tkatchenko, who celebrated his 44th birthday on match day, saying he was pleased with the turn out, estimated at 14,900 plus, as well as the venue .
“This is one of the best stadiums (for its size) in the world. I’ve been around the world to several stadiums and the NFS beats them all,” Tkatchenko said.
“This is truly world class, it’s certainly better than what they’ve got at Hull (England), which was where the Kumuls were based for the last World Cup.”
“The crowd was great and everyone enjoyed the experience.”
The Panthers brought their NRL experience to bear with their defence forcing the Hunters to resort to kicks to get behind the line.
Both coaches agreed that because it was a trial match, mistakes were expected with the players not having played a game in four to five months.
“It was a learning curve for both teams. Michael and I learned a lot about our combinations and with trial matches you expect mistakes because the players won’t have played for four to five months,” Georgallis said.
The Naitonal/ ONE PNG