Justin Holbrook welcomed the tough selection decisions ahead of Papua New Guinea’s next Pacific Championships match against Fiji as he declared the Kumuls were aiming to build depth in order to compete with Australia and New Zealand.
Holbrook blooded six Test debutants in his first match as Kumuls coach and they all impressed as the new look PNG team romped to a 46-10 defeat of Cook Islands at Santos National Football Stadium on Sunday.
The Kumuls will be bolstered by the return of England-based stars Edwin Ipape, Rhyse Martin and Wellington Albert, while injured Storm centre Justin Olam may also be available for the October 29 clash with the Bati in Port Moresby.
With Albert set to take the number of Kumuls in the Super League to nine after helping London Broncos to earn promotion with an 18-14 defeat of Toulouse on Sunday, Holbrook would prefer the end of the English season to align with the NRL grand final.
However, the absence of Albert, Ipape (suspension), Olam and Martin, whose wife recently gave birth to their second child, gave Holbrook the opportunity to evaluate the depth in his squad and he was impressed by each of the Test newcomers.
Centre Zac Laybutt scored two tries, lock Jack de Belin (168m) and prop Valentine Richard (133m) regularly made inroads into the Cook Islands defence and hooker Judah Rimbu (40) topped the tackle count.
“We really are blessed for great number nines here in PNG,” Holbrook said.
“Edwin had a fantastic year in the Super League and was unavailable due to suspension, but I thought Judah was fantastic and Liam Horne wasn’t far behind him.
“We had six debutants and to come away with such a dominant win everyone's happy, and so we should be.
“We have a few guys coming over from the UK, who we will slot in, so there’s some tough decisions for me in a couple of weeks against Fiji - but they are good problems.
“It shows the depth and quality of players that we've got available now and they are going to be tough decisions, but that's the level we want to be.
“We look at the Australian side and they can pick so many players. That's where we want to get to, where we've got a number of guys that can step in and do a job and us not drop a level, so we've got an exciting future here.”
Martin captained the Kumuls at last year’s World Cup but Kyle Laybutt took over the leadership role against Cook Islands and he had the battle scars to prove after fronting a packed post-match press conference with a large gash on his forehead.
After six Tests together, Laybutt and Lachlan Lam are developing a good understanding in the halves and the Leigh playmaker laid on three tries as he, Rimbu and de Belin constantly threatened the Cook Islands defence.
“I thought Jack was outstanding," Holbrook said. "He played massive minutes for a player that hasn't played for quite some time and he was brilliant for us.
“I knew what Jack would bring to the team and he's been great all week. He loved being embraced up here and he couldn't wait to play. I think that's what he showed, he just worked so hard and loved competing.”
The injury hit Cook Islands team face Fiji on Sunday, with the Bati taking on PNG the following weekend and the two highest placed teams playing in the Pacific Bowl final on November 5.