WHEN Papua New Guinea trio Stargroth Amean, Wartovo Puara Jr and Willie Minoga make their debuts for Barrow Raiders this season they will follow in the footsteps of countryman John Okul, who became the club’s first Papua New Guinean signing with a short spell at Craven Park in 2000.

Okul was a member of the PNG World Cup side in 1985 and his stay with Barrow lasted just over two months, making 12 appearances and scoring four tries following his move from Doncaster.

The trio’s arrival has got the rugby fraternity of the Furness area excited in anticipation, with PNG players are renowned for their aggression, mobility and skills – and once the dry grounds emerge they could be a force to be reckoned with.

However, the players are not – along with Okul – the first to step onto the Craven Park pitch. Back in 1979, the Kumuls played Cumbria Amateurs and were victorious 23-9.

Prior to the Craven Park visit they lost to the St Helens league 19-17 and 28-12 to Great Britain Amateurs at Hull.

The players, with an average age 22, paid £250 each out of their own pockets to make the trip to these shores, leaving behind temperatures of 30-plus braving the bitterly cold November English weather.

Against Cumbria, they paraded seven who had played in the game with GB, while Cumbria had their own internationals in Millom’s Jim Bawden – captain and rated one of the best amateur centres never to turn professional –Peter Knowles, Mick James, Joe Jackson and Steve Mossop.

The 1,600 crowd were warmed up prior to kick-off by the traditional tribal dance.

James and Mossop tested the Kumuls in the early stages, and it was James who opened the scoring courtesy of a pass from Bawden, with Knowles converting.

But the hosts lost Wath Brow’s Colin Todd early with a broken collar bone, being replaced by Dalton’s Ian Clough.

PNG hit back with a fine try from skipper Stainer Sapu who weaved his way through the cover to score, followed by Rodney Som converting.

Knowles edged the home side back into the lead with a penalty, although flying winger Volu Kapani was causing problems and a try from Paul Monama, converted by Som, put the tourists ahead.

The speed of the Kumuls began to tell as they thrilled the crowd with some dazzling rugby, which produced a try for Vai Karava. Knowles narrowed the gap with a penalty before Kapani raced over for Som to convert.

Man of the match Mossop rallied his side, but victory was sealed by David Tinemau’s converted try.

Barrovian, Cumbria chairman and Great Britain selector Ray Oldfield praised the Kumuls for making it a fine occasion at a reception at Barrow Town Hall, while Kumuls executive member Tony Lavutul thanked all for the hospitality shown from the people of Barrow.

Cumbria: Peter Knowles, (Millom); Brian Hutchinson (Maryport), Ian Heslop (Lowca), Jim Bawden (Millom), Mick James (Millom); Eric Nicholson (Kells), Colin Todd (Wath Brow); Joe Jackson (Millom), Arnold Thompson (Glasson), John Lightfoot (Wath Brow), Dave Courtey (Glasson), Alan Mansergh (Roose), Steve Mossop (Millom). Subs: Ian Clough (Dalton), Trevor Laverick (Hensingham).

Papua New Guinea: Rodney Som; Volu Kapani, David Tamtu, John Joseph, Paulus Akis; Andrew Limi, Poka Kila; Napolean Bangkoma, Linus Geni, Stainer Sapu, Fraser Giheno, Paul Monama David Tinemau. Subs: Mav Checking, Vai Karava.