After being named as just the second-ever person to be head coach of the PNG Hunters, Matt Church said he was acutely aware of the historic nature of his appointment and felt honoured to be taking on the role.
Signed on to coach the 2017 Intrust Super Cup premiers for the 2020 and 2021 seasons; Church, who is regarded as one of the best up-and-coming coaches in Queensland, could prove a key signing for a club looking to bounce back from a difficult 2019 season.
“It is truly an honour to be only their second coach and to be taking over from Michael Marum who is so highly respected in football and much loved in PNG,” Church said.
“Being the first coach from overseas is a big change for the organisation and also the country.
“The role is unlike any other in the Intrust Super Cup (with) rugby league being the national sport (of Papua New Guinea), there’s a sharp focus on the Hunters.”
Church started his coaching career as assistant coach with the West Brisbane Panthers FOGS Cup / Brisbane A Grade team in 2006 and brings a strong coaching resume and philosophy based around player development to his new role.
After Wests, he had stints in the Easts Tigers Intrust Super Cup system, with the Melbourne Storm Under 20 side and the club’s development systems and finally in 2019, with the Sunshine Coast Falcons.
He was an assistant coach as the Falcons went on their unprecedented run of 21 wins, one draw and only one loss across the regular season to claim the minor premiership, a run which saw development players Nicho Hynes, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Ryan Papenhuyzen earn their NRL debuts and Darren Schonig signed by the Storm.
The 2019 Queensland Under 16 Country coach sees this development work as a key aspect of his new role.
“We will work hard to create an environment to succeed,” Church said.
“I’m looking to build a system that provides opportunities to develop players and staff so that the Hunters have long term sustained success.
“I always felt as a player I never played up to my potential and let other things affect my mindset.
“As young men, we can get in our own way at times, so coaching for me is a tool to help others achieve their goals.” .
As with all clubs that experience premiership success, winning the Cup title in 2017 was a double-edged sword for the Hunters, with numerous overseas clubs showing an interest in their players.
The subsequent huge turnover in their squad highlighted the gap that exists between the Intrust Super Cup and the Digicel Cup (the PNG national competition), despite it being a breeding ground for talent.
“I see this as a part of my role, to develop coaches across PNG through coach education,” Church said.
“There is so much untapped talent in PNG, it has the potential to be a huge production line if we can get the systems and processes right.”
Church is well into his new role and has begun work with his initial squad of players, with their pre-season training camp having kicked off earlier this week.