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PNG Hunters: Cup gains and losses for 2024

Robert Mathias has waited a long time to pursue his dream of playing for the PNG Hunters.

Hailing from the Western Highlands in Papua New Guinea, the versatile centre and backrower was not able to play rugby league growing up.

Despite it being his passion – with Mathias as in love with the game as the majority of his home nation – he came from a devout religious background, with most of his time dedicated to study and his faith.

“Because of church commitments and studies, I didn’t take it seriously,” Mathias said of rugby league.

“I was a big fan (of the game), always. I used to go to the TV and watch NRL.

“I have the passion and I really wanted to play but because I grew up in a family where I don’t have time…  I’m a religious guy so my parents don’t allow me to go out on the weekends to play.

“I only played on holiday breaks… but I have the passion, I want to play.”

Mathias’ first official step into the rugby league arena didn't come until high school while he was in Year 11. But it went to the next level when he started at UniTech in Lae.

“The first year when I came to university, I had the freedom,” Mathias said.

“I had a lot of time so I saw rugby as a good opportunity.

“At first (my parents) did not agree and said I have to complete my study first.

“But once I was selected by the Snax Tigers, I told my parents that they would pay for my school fees.

“Then my parents said I should play. They were so happy and so proud of me.”

Mathias spent time balancing his study and his football, often heading straight outside after a day of classes.

As well as representing UniTech, Mathias was first selected for the Enga Mioks in the Digicel Cup in 2021 before getting the call to the Lae Snax Tigers in 2022.

He said he only played five games before a breakout season in 2023, which led to this year’s dream result.

“Last year, I played all the games and I was lucky I was selected by the Hunters to come and be with them throughout the pre-season,” Mathias said.

“It was very tough and I pushed through and I made it through the second block (of squad cuts).”

Mathias believes his call up to the Hostplus Cup squad had a little something to do with former Hunters centre, Rodrick Tai.

The pair – who come from the same region - met while both studying at UniTech and Mathias looked up to the recent Warrington Wolves recruit, constantly picking his brain on how to become a better player.

“Rodrick Tai must have told (coach Paul Aiton) about me,” Mathias said.

“He said I could come, have a taste of pre-season and go back. But I set my mind and I trust (myself). I know it was hard but I made it through the first block and the second.

“When I was doing my year one at UniTech, Rodrick Tai at the time was at Lae Snax Tigers.

“Because I am a big fan and I want to play, every weekend when they come to school, I went to them, have (a talk) with them, ask how they play.

“When I see them I usually ask all about rugby and they really helped me a lot. After my game day, they would encourage me on things to do, things to avoid.

“We came from the same place. When he was playing with the Tigers, everyone looked up to him. I wanted to play, I looked up to him.

“Every move, everything, I studied and tried to be like him. He’s the most influential guy and when I first came here, he was very helpful. He’d say, ‘do this, do that, play like this.’

“I see what they’ve gone through. When they tell me to do something… they see the potential in me. So what they say, I usually follow.”

Mathias’ dedication to the game, whether it be learning from Tai or putting his all in during the Hunters’ pre-season, has paid off big time.

In Round 1 he will debut in the second row - playing alongside 2023 breakout star Whallan Tau-Loi – and he hopes that he can continue to build on his current form and go a long way within the game.

“So long as I stick in and focus on training and take one thing at a time, learn as much as I can, I can still prosper,” Mathias said.

“I have trust in God and in myself that as long as I’m here, I can still prosper.

“My goals for this season is to make sure that once I’m in the squad, I am in the first 17, to play all the games.

“I want to make it to Kumuls and then NRL. That’s the ultimate goal and I’m still hoping for that.”

PNG Hunters 2024 gains and losses


Koso Bandi (Rabaul Gurias), Bruce Bawase (Junior Kumuls), Finlay Glare (Lae Snax Tigers), Manisa Kai (Enga Mioks), Wendle Kipsy (Lae Snax Tigers), Weiyah Koi (Valleys Brisbane), Clent Lama (Mendi Muruks), Robert Mathias (Lae Snax Tigers), Alex Max (Rabaul Gurias), Jordan Pat (Rabaul Gurias), Valentine Richard (Central Queensland Capras), Elijah Roltinga (Kimbe Cutters), Zachariah Selu, Junior Talin (Enga Mioks), Gairo Voro (Central Dabaris/Junior Kumuls), Anthony Worot (Kroton Hela Wigman)


Tom Moide (released), Rodrick Tai (Warrington Wolves), Sherwin Tanabi (released to study)

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