Game day rivals; but Jets and PNG find harmony off field

It's not often a club will roll out the welcome mat for their opposition; but that is exactly what the Ipswich Jets will be doing tonight for the Hunters.

A longstanding fixture on the calendar for the Jets, the club have been hosting a PNG Appreciation event when they play the Hunters at home, pairing up the big match with a festival of PNG culture with traditional dance, music, food and special stalls.

"This is our fourth year celebrating Harmony Day and is a popular event in the Ipswich community," Ipswich Jets Corporate and Community Engagement Officer Justine Parisi said.

"(We) are particularly excited this year as our Harmony Day will be held this Friday night, bringing rugby league to the Ipswich community under lights for the only game this year.

"(There will be more than) 20 stalls selling delicious traditional food, produce and fashion ... and there is also traditional face painting and before the Intrust Super Cup kick there will be a PNG dance performance.

"We are hoping to see a great turn out."

While it may seem strange at first to provide such a welcoming environment for a team you will be doing your utmost to beat on the field; rugby league has always been a game that embraces diversity and welcomes all cultures into the family.

For the Hunters themselves, the game of rugby league and their entry into the Intrust Super Cup has served as a unifying event in itself for their country; and has embodied all the positive outlooks of Harmony Day.

Putting aside their premiership triumph last year; the club are also a huge success off the field having captured the imagination and support of the country and beyond.

Much of this is due to fact everyone feels represented; with staff and players coming from all areas of the island archipelago to represent under the one Hunters banner.

On a recent visit to PNG, Hunters CEO Reatau Rau happily surveyed the staff in the Hunters head office – saying that if it wasn't for rugby league (and its lingua franca, English) – many of the people in his office would never had the opportunity to interact with each other.

"We have people from all the four regions of the country at the Hunters; from the Highlands, NG islands, NG mainland and the Southern Region. We all speak different languages and come from different ethnic backgrounds and rugby league plays a huge part in uniting us all," Rau said.

"This is true for our staff and our players. Our PNGRFL Chairman is from the Highlands region, I am from the Southern Region, coach Michael (Marum) is from the NGI region; same as the Boas brothers Ase and Watson are from the islands."

Back at North Ipswich Reserve; another set of brothers will be preparing for tonight's game; with Jets Sebastian and Richard Pandia set to take on their fellow countrymen.

Seb – a former PNG Hunter himself – and Richie have been strong performers for the Jets all season; and will be doing their best to bring down the Hunters on the field.

In them is a great example of the best of rugby league – bitter rivalries on the field; but strong bonds of friendship when the siren sounds.

*Head to North Ipswich Reserve tonight (Friday, June 15) to see the Ipswich Jets take on the PNG Hunters in their Round 15 Intrust Super Cup match.