As he packed his bag before heading into Kumuls camp for the last time, David Mead reflected on the first occasion he wore the PNG jersey as a 19-year-old in 2008 and the opportunities representing his country had provided for him in the game.
Mead wants other young PNG players to have a similar experience and that is why the long-serving Kumuls captain told team-mates on Tuesday that he was calling time on his decorated international career after Saturday night’s Pacific Test against Fiji at Campbelltown Sports Stadium.
The 33-year-old is yet to made a final decision about his NRL future but he has advised new Kumuls coach Stanley Tepend to give his World Cup spot to one of the growing band of young players he believes would provide the talent for a future PNG team in the Telstra Premiership.
“I just thought it would be a good opportunity for a young 19 or 20-year-old player to get a chance to showcase their talent so I think it is better for them to put on that jersey and get a good career out of it,” Mead said.
“That opportunity was given to me at that age, as well, so I think it would be pretty good to do that for them as well.
“I spoke to several family members a couple of months ago and I feel that now is the right time to say it because PNG is where it all started for me, so I wanted to say something this week while the camp was on.”
Mead, who moved to Lismore at the age of 12, was a member of the Gold Coast Titans team in the inaugural under 20s NYC competition when he attended a trial in PNG for selection in the Kumuls squad for the 2008 World Cup.
The tournament launched Mead’s NRL career and he played 147 matches for the Titans from 2009 to 2016, 58 for Catalans and has played another 25 for the Broncos, as well as featuring in three World Cups in 2008, 2013 and 2017.
“I was packing my bag last night and I just thought about the first time I packed my bag to go and trial in 2008. I remember it like yesterday,” Mead said.
“I didn’t know what it would be like playing against the guys over there, what the experience would be like, or that it would lead up to this moment so that was pretty cool.
“Prior to that I played in the inaugural NRL under 20s competition, and I didn’t play too many games, I wasn’t a stand-out or anything like that. I was trialling for the Kumuls as a fill-in for the international side to play the PNG Residents team.
“The Kumuls mean everything to me. I have played a fair few games for them and pulling that jersey on is probably more of a service to me than me to the country, in my opinion, because of the love the people have for the game over there.
“It is a pretty amazing feeling; you go out to the villages hours away from town where electricity is sometimes unavailable, but they are finding ways to watch the games and admire guys who are one of their own going and making it.
“It is certainly a proud moment whenever I put this jersey on.”
There have been times during Mead’s 14 Test appearances where he have been few players chosen in the Kumuls side from outside the domestic PNG competition but that has changed, particularly since the Hunters joined the Queensland Cup in 2014.
The 20-man squad chosen to play Fiji on Saturday night is drawn exclusively from the NRL or Queensland Cup and there are likely to be other players available for the World Cup, including Xavier Coates, Bailey Biondi-Odo, James Segeyaro and Rhyse Martin.
“There is so much young talent coming through now, at Queensland Cup level but also in the development squads as well,” Mead said.
“[Northern Pride winger] Rob Derby, who is going to make his debut on Saturday night, is someone who can benefit and there are others in the mix.
“There are a couple of hundred registered PNG players in the Queensland region so there is plenty of talent and hopefully one can grab it and make the most of it.”
With the passion people in PNG have for the game, Mead believes a team in the NRL would not only be successful but would provide a boost to the country.