Falcon Olam's pride for countrymen
Speak to Sunshine Coast Falcons centre Justin Olam and you get the sense he already considers 2017 a raging success.
He has an Intrust Super Cup grand final yet to play against his former PNG Hunters team-mates this weekend at Suncorp Stadium and while he hasn't been able to crack the Storm's NRL side; considering the enormity of the changes he has experienced in his life in such a short space of time, he knows his hardest days are behind him.
Hailing from the Chimbu province in the Papua New Guinea Highlands, Olam was signed by the Lae Tigers in 2014 and by 2016 had progressed to not only play for the Hunters in the Intrust Super Cup, but earn selection in the Kumuls national team.
In May 2016, just two months into his career with the Hunters, he was signed to a two-year deal with the Melbourne Storm that put him within reach of his childhood dream of playing in the NRL.
The bustling metropolis that is Melbourne is far removed from the environment he has been accustomed to throughout his life, but he believes avoiding the temptation to return home at any stage this year has been an achievement in itself.
“I thought I was going to be homesick because this is the first time for me to move away from my family and especially out of the country, but the people here are so good, especially the Storm management and everyone here,” Olam said.
“It is hard. I really wanted to go back. I wished I could have gone back when the Falcons played over there, but they didn't end up having a game in PNG this year so I haven't been able to go home.
“I'll go back after the end of the grand final which isn't too far, only three weeks until I am able to go home and I am looking forward to it. It's been hard for me.
“This year was my learning year. I'm trying to adapt to this place here, not only the training but the environment and the people so I think I know what to do next year. Hopefully I get better.”
Despite being a former Hunter and a current Kumuls representative, Olam knows that because they are playing against the Hunters – any hometown support he will be receiving will be confined mainly to his family.
With three games of the Rugby League World Cup to be played in Port Moresby and the success of the Hunters this season, it shapes as an historic year for PNG rugby league and Olam said he is thrilled to share the stage on Sunday with them.
“When they made the grand final I was really proud for them,” the 23-year-old said.
"It's good for them to make it to the top and go into the grand final for the first time.
"As a former Hunter, I'm really happy for them, but my focus is with the Falcons because they are my new team now.
"I know all the people of PNG they love their PNG team which is the Hunters. If we beat them they will at least like me a little bit, but I know my family is always going to be at my back so I'll do it for my family.”
Olam said the Falcons had kept their emotions in check after the big 40-14 win over Redcliffe in the preliminary final last weekend.
“I think everyone was very excited, but everyone was settling down quite quickly and then looking ahead to what was to come in this week's grand final,” he said.
He said the strong contingent of Melbourne-based players had struck an instant rapport with the local Falcons.
"Trigger (coach Craig Ingebrigtsen) just lets us meet up with the boys on the Sunny Coast and they know everything already, so we just go up and do captain's run and they tell us what to do and we pick it up from there,” Olam said.
*A former editor of Big League, Tony Webeck is the Chief Queensland Correspondent for NRL.com.
>>> This is an abridged version of this week’s Quick Tap with Tony Webeck.
You can read the full version – plus a number of other features including previews and player profiles – in the 2017 special edition grand final program (available only at Suncorp Stadium on grand final day).