The PNG Kumuls sent retiring skipper David Mead out on a high with a 24-14 win over Fiji at Campbelltown Stadium on Saturday night.
Mead grabbed a try and ran for 139 metres as he led his country to their eighth win in their past 11 Test matches.
Fiji looked to have struck the first blow in the 10th minute when Taane Milne powered crashed over from close range but he was ruled to have lost the ball on the way to the ground.
Not to be denied the Bati kept the pressure on and co-captain Kevin Naiqama opened the scoring when he put in a grubber and cleaned up the scraps after Dan Russell had fumbled the ball.
With the Kumuls searching for a game breaker it was Storm superstar Justin Olam who stood up, goose-stepping his way past defenders and racing 40 metres down the left touchline before sending a pass inside for Lachlan Lam to score. Kyle Laybutt's conversion levelled the scores at 6-6.
Lam finishes off Olam's masterclass
Six minutes later the Kumuls had a new hero when Test debutant McKenzie Lei skittled four defenders on a 15-metre charge to the line to put his team up 12-6 at the break.
The Kumuls looked set to follow up that late strike with an early second-half try when Solo Wane got into the open on the left wing but he was denied by desperate cover defence from Sunia Turuva.
Laybutt looked to have extended the Kumuls' lead in the 50th minute when he shrugged off Viliame Kikau and surged to the tryline but the bunker ruled a double movement.
Kevin Naiqama finds a way to score
Fiji then worked their way to the other end where Milne put in a well weighted grubber for Turuva to cap a stunning performance with a four-pointer but Nautua Masima missed the easy conversion and PNG clung to a 12-10 lead.
With the game on the line it was Lam who stood tall, splitting the Fiji defence and finding skipper David Mead inside him for an emotional try as the Kumuls went up by eight.
A penalty against PNG hooker Wartovo Puara for late contact on Naiqama after a kick gave the Bati more possession inside the 20-metre zone and Pio Seci got over the stripe but he was held up by Alex Johnston.
Player of the match Lam then put the icing on the Kumuls cake in the 75th minute when he collected an Olam grubber and dived over for his second try of the night to make it 24-10.
A consolation try to Turuva was fitting reward for his outstanding game in the No.1 jersey for Fiji but it was the Kumuls home 24-14.
The Kumuls' win provided the perfect send-off for Mead, who had announced pre-match that he was retiring from international football after 15 Test matches.
Kumuls hero David Mead provides one final gift
- Lamar Manuel-Liolevave was forced from the field in just the fourth minute for a HIA after getting his head in an awkward position trying to tackle PNG's Nixon Putt. He failed the HIA and was unable to return.
- The Kumuls team included seven members of the side that defeated Great Britain in Port Moresby in 2019 - Alex Johnston, David Mead, Justin Olam, Kyle Laybutt, Nixon Putt, Dan Russell and Wartovo Puara.
- Young Panther Sunia Turuva was outstanding at fullback for Fiji with 24 runs for 252 metres and seven tackle breaks.
Match: Papua New Guinea v Fiji
Round 1 -
Papua New Guinea
Venue: Campbelltown Sports Stadium, Sydney
- Hooker Penioni Tagituimua got through a power of work in defence for the Bati with 60 tackles.
- The Kumuls had only 44 per cent of possession in the first half but made the most of the ball they did have, completing 19 of 21 sets at 90 per cent and scoring two tries to one.
- Storm big man Tui Kamikamica played the first 56 minutes straight before getting a rest with 18 runs and 176 metres to his name.
- McKenzie Yei went on report in the 53rd minute for a lifting tackle on Mikaele Ravalawa.
- Maika Sivo is back in a big way after his knee reconstruction, racking up 222 metres, a line break and six tackle breaks.
Mead speaks after his last game for the Kumuls
Play of the Game
PNG bench forward McKenzie Lei boasts just two tries in his 63-game Queensland Cup career but with a minute remaining in the first half he produced a barnstorming try from 15 metres out to put the Kumuls in front. After Nixon Putt had steamrolled Tui Kamikamica to get PNG on the front foot it was Yei scooping up a loose pass and running over the top of four defenders to have the big contingent of Kumuls fans in raptures. Yei finished the night with 117 running metres, seven tackle breaks and cult figure status assured.
No one is stopping Yei
What They Said
"It's been a special week, coach Stan and all the players have made is special for me and the family. To top it off for a win is a huge bonus. If I don't play in that 2008 World Cup I don't think I would be here today. It's given me a life." - Retiring PNG captain David Mead.
Papua New Guinea
"We didn't get the job done but both teams played very well today. PNG did take their chances so congratulations to them. Kevin was playing [five-eighth] today because of Brandon Wakeham's suspension so we tried to prepare ourselves there." - Fiji Bati coach Joe Dakuitoga.
"The hunger is there but it's only one week and three or four days of training. We've got some good depth so it's a good stepping stone leading into the World Cup at the end of the year." - Fiji vice-captain Tui Kamikamica.