The news came quite suddenly last weekend – one of the stars of the Intrust Super Cup was playing his final game after deciding to swap his boot bag for a library card.
PNG Hunters fullback Stargroth Amean had approached his coach Michael Marum earlier in the week to tell him had made a decision about his future and - to the lament of fans of the Intrust Super Cup competition and beyond – this was away from the football field.
Amean (who was reportedly named after a Spanish film star by his movie-loving mother) had always wanted to be a doctor and felt the time was right to convert his part-time studies in science into a full-time dedication in order to help him achieve his dream.
While obviously disappointed to be losing such a valued member of his squad, all Marum could do was wish him well.
Besides; this is far from the first time Marum’s been forced to farewell a talent he’s played an integral part in shaping, and it won’t be the last.
In some ways, the success of the PNG Hunters and their football program can at times work against them, as it teaches young men to believe in themselves and pushes them to work hard to strive toward their goals.
As Marum is continuing to discover, instilling discipline can help his players eventually further their footballing careers by signing with overseas clubs, like the brothers Wellington and Stanton Albert, now at the Widnes Vikings; or they can find fulfilling employment outside of football completely.
“I knew he was doing part-time studies since last year and during preseason … but he didn’t mention (anything about stepping down) til just on Tuesday night when he came into my office and informed me of his decision,” Marum said of how Amean broke the news to him.
The inaugural coach of the Hunters since they entered the competition in 2014, Marum has previously seen rampaging winger Garry Lo head to England in his quest to play Super League, overseen the signing of Justin Olam with the Melbourne Storm (now playing for the Sunshine Coast); while former captain and the club’s all-time leading point scorer Noel Zeming decided to leave the Hunters to pursue a career in teaching.
Despite having to deal with the departures of key personnel after investing considerable efforts into promoting their wellbeing and development, the PNG Kumuls coach was proud of the expectations placed on his charges.
“We have set high standards at our club and in order to be successful, and (players) have to abide by (them),” Marum said.
He also acknowledged that players who meet these standards would soon discover their own ability to achieve, meaning they could be lost to other endeavours.
“Yes definitely; they gain a lot of confidence from what we try to enforce to them in order to become successful,” he said.
“Hopefully a lot of them go out and apply what they have learnt from the team.”
While there is nothing preventing the Hunters from trying to lure an established talent from other clubs in the competition to fill the void left by a player like Amean, the club is committed to providing pathways – football or otherwise – for Papua New Guineans, despite the challenges.
“It’s very tough when you invest a lot of time into players that you think will do well for you and then lose them to study and work,” Marum admitted.
“Bringing in players from our local Digicel Cup clubs is what we are doing (as this forms) a pathway for our PNG boys to expose their talents outside of the country.
“But they come from a lower level of competition and we are working hard on how we can close the gap in between.”
A fan favourite, the retirement of Hunter #27 (who played 64 games and scored 37 tries) will be a difficult one to manage as he was a key pillar in their premiership success last year.
“We will certainly miss his presence on the field, but we have to move on and work with who we have and put trust in him that he can do the same,” Marum said of his side’s focus going forward.
As well as his obvious skills with the ball; the loss off of Amean's leadership and experience will leave another huge void to fill.
Marum said the team would also miss his presence off the field, with the former Viper known for his upbeat personality and his absolute love of the camera.
“He loves pictures,” Marum said.
“The boys will miss seeing him taking selfies whenever we (are) anywhere near cameras.”
The PNG Hunters travel to Bishop Park this Saturday to face the Norths Devils at 5.30pm.