In a proud moment for Papua New Guinea rugby league fans – Justin Olam is set to make his NRL debut with the Melbourne Storm later today.
Named yesterday in the starting line-up by coach Craig Bellamy at centre in place of the injured Curtis Scott – this afternoon’s opportunity has been a long time coming for the Kumuls representative who has been playing well in the Intrust Super Cup this season with the Sunshine Coast Falcons.
He will become the second player from Papua New Guinea to play for the Storm, following in the footsteps of Marcus Bai who was a member of the inaugural Melbourne side in 1998.
Olam’s path to the big stage has been paved by a lot of hard work, and when he faces the St George Illawarra Dragons this afternoon, he will become the first graduate of the PNG Hunters program to make it to the NRL.
Olam was recruited to the Hunters in 2016 from the Digicel Cup where he played for Lae’s Snax Tigers.
He experienced great personal success that year, winning the Hunters Rookie of the Year award and was their top try scorer. He also claimed the XXXX People’s Choice Award at the QRL’s Gala Awards and was also signed by the Storm for the 2017 season.
PNG Hunters and Kumuls coach Michael Marum had high praise for a player who always made the most of his opportunities.
“When I sent a message to him inviting him to come to Hunters camp in 2016 for preseason, he didn’t hold back,” Marum said.
“He was a shy and quite young kid on his first week, but quickly adapted to the team with his powerful runs at training, putting on shots on some of the older boys.
“Today I’ll be in front of my TV watching Justin play his first NRL game.”
Born in Simbu; Olam was in the strange position of playing against the Hunters in last year’s grand final – but he is sure to have the support of the entire nation, and that of Intrust Super Cup fans, when he runs out onto the field today.
His debut caps off a big round of celebration for PNG fans, with Rhyse Martin having also made his NRL debut earlier this week, scoring a try in his first game with the Bulldogs.
A former Townsville Blackhawk; Martin has been a part of the Kumuls line-up since 2014.
“(It is) great news for PNG with two of our boys playing their first NRL game this weekend, which is every kid’s dream here … which is the pathway we providing,” Marum said.
“I’m a bit lost for words and yes finally these boys are getting the opportunity.
“Rhys on his first game in 2014 with the Kumuls brought that experience from (his time with) NRL clubs and has never rejected playing for us ever since.
“Both (Rhyse and Justin are) leaders in our national team now and I’m sure everyone will be waiting to watch more games in future.
“They have made the country proud. We wish them the very best.”
Justin Olam Intrust Super Cup statistics
PNG Hunters (2016): 21 games 14 tries
Sunshine Coast Falcons (2017-2018): 31 games, 18 tries
*Statistics by Brad Tallon