MEN OF THE WORLD Two: DAVID MEAD (Papua New Guinea & Australia)

Gold Coast - David MeadBy STEVE MASCORD

JAMAL Idris is towering over David Mead as he recalls a childhood of “fishing, growing the garden, growing bananas, yams and taros” in Papua New Guinea

We are in the wide passageway behind the dressing rooms at Skilled Park on Australia’s Gold Coast, and the Kumuls flanker is explaining how he came to move to Australia, play in the World Cup, change his name, withdraw from the Kumuls programme and then rejoin it.

Idris is trying to put his Titans team-mate off – amusing if you are a player but a little annoying after a while f you’re a reporter. But Mead – who laughs nervously at first – has too much pride in his journey to clam up.

“I was born in PNG and spent my first 12 years in the village, Tubusereia,”says the man who scored 16 NRL tries in 2011.

“If you Google it .. it’s about 30 minutes from Port Moresby.

“I went to school there until grade five and then moved to Lismore (in northern New South Wales) with my mum’s elder sister, my auntie.

“She helped me through school until I was 18 and I got to move up to the Titans and had my opportunity.

“It was a big change for me, coming from PNG – from the village, especially. I enjoyed it, growing up in PNG. You don’t get all the luxuries that you get here but I’m glad I did it.

“You get a different perspective on things and now I appreciate all the things I get now in Australia.”

Last year his foster father Stephen died and he also returned to PNG for the death of a cousin – a tough period for a 23-year-old.

But he has started 2013 well for a resurgent Gold Coast, deciding the round three game against Manly by putting a foot in touch and rendering Daly Cherry-Evans line-dropout dead – giving team-mate Aiden Sezer a penalty goal from in front.

“Anyone would have done it,” he said modestly.

If you’re struggling to remember Mead in the 2008 World Cup, there’s a reason. He was listed in matches against England, New Zealand and Australia as “David Moore”.

Here’s the story with the name change – and it’s a heart-warming one.

“My mum looked after me when I was young (in PNG),” he explains. “She was married and the marriage didn’t work out.

“My biological dad moved back to Australia, he was Australian. My mum looked after me with her and her brothers and sisters and my grandparents.”

(Here’s where Idris shows up, standing behind me and grinning at his team-mate).

“I lived with them in the village and my grandparents were doing (sees Idris, laughs nerviously) subsistence farming – I got to experience a lot of fishing, growing the garden, growing bananas, yams and taros.

“I had to wait until I was 18 to be able to change (my name) myself and my mum’s dad’s name, that’s part of my middle name.

“Mead is the name of the family who looked after me here in Lismore. I thought they gave me a big opportunity coming here so I thought I’d show a bit of respect that way.”

Stephen Mead, 63, died last year after a two year battle with cancer. Not long before, he attended a cousin’s funeral in PNG. At the time, Mead decided he was fed up with the Kumuls set up and had announced instead he was throwing his lot in with Queensland.

It’s a decision that surprised many close to him, who knew how dearly he loved the colourful PNG jersey.

“It was how disorganised it was,” he explains to Rugby League World. “I guess it wasn’t as professional as I’m used to at the Titans. That put me off a bit.”

The rule of Don Fox as chairman and Adrian Lam as coach has changed Mead’s mind, though. Mal Meninga’s recruitment hasn’t hurt either.

“They’re getting the old crew together for the World Cup, the successful crew from 2009,” he explained.

“I think they’re putting a good system in place and obviously Mal Meninga’a signed up to help out PNG as well so I think it’s all looking positive. I’m very happy to be part of it – if I get picked.

“I’ve spoken to a few players – Neville Costigan and Pauly Aiton – and they reckon some good things are being put back in place. Everything from PNG looks positive, we’ve just got to get those systems put in place and hope to develop as a country.”

For Aiton, the last World Cup was a life-changing experience. Like many players in rugby league, getting in touch with his ethnicity after a period overseas changed his outlook profoundly.

It’s something that will happen for dozens this October and November – regardless of results. The Kumuls famously led England 16-12 at halftime in Townsville before losing 32-22, and were beaten 48-6 by New Zealand on the Gold Coast and 46-6 by Australia back in Townsville.

“All three games, I still remember them like it was yesterday,” he says with a glint in his eye.

Asked to narrow it down, he adds: “Maybe the England game. It was my first live TV game against men. I’d never played against men before.

“That game gave me a lot of confidence. I believed I could play NRL from that game.”

It’s safe to say the match had the opposite effect on the men in red and white. But five years later, there’ll be youngsters from PNG villages who will always remember the days and nights they got to play with David Mead.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

FAR & WIDE: Number 21

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

THIS year’s PNG v Australian Prime Minister’s XIII game is to be played in Kokopo, near the New Britain town of Rabaul which was destroyed by the eruption of twin volcanos in 1994.

The writer has great memories of Australia’s visit to the ruggedly beautiful region in 1991. This will be the first major game in the region since ’92.

The PM’s XIII will meet the Kumuls at Kalabond field, Kokopo, on September 29. At this stage, this is only World Cup warm-up game announced for either country.

Meanwhile, PNG national champions the Agmark Gurias recently completed a two-match tour of Queensland undefeated, with wins over the Northern Pride and JCU Saints.

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THE NRL and Super League are no longer the only rugby league competitions that cross national boundaries.

Kicking off last weekend, the Pan-Scandinavian League pits three Swedish clubs against the new Copenhagen RLFC from Denmark.

The Copenhagen boys warmed up for their debut with a sevens tournament in Kungsbacka, Sweden, and made the final against Skåne Crusaders, with the Swedes winning 12-6.

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RICHARD York from the Czech Rugby League was in Sydney over Easter and was the special guest of South Sydney for their big Good Friday clash with Canterbury.

Richard reports that expansion in the Czech Republic is continuing apace with 10 clubs located around the country. Rabbtiohs chief executive Shane Richardson will return the visit at the end of the season by stopping into Prague.

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CANADA has lined up an international season that many other countries – including Australia and New Zealand – would envy.

On July 6 and September 21 they take on the United States but in between are matches against Jamaica (July 20) and Norway (September 7).

All games are at Lamport Stadium, Toronto, and the CRL is selling a “season ticket” for just $20. They’re providing a blueprint of how a national team can be used to drive development in a new rugby league country.

Check out their cool website, http://www.canadarugbyleague.com

@RLWfarandwide

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

A World Cup For Wontoks?

untitledBy STEVE MASCORD

RUGBY league’s capacity for self-harm is all pervasive – but our capacity to find out about it us often inconsistent and unreliable.

We know every twist and turn of the Super League War in Australia. We know how the New Zealand government formed a commission to overhaul the game in New Zealand. And most readers of this august organ would be aware that Italy and the United States are about to make their World Cup bows with divided competitions.

But what about the nation that is our fourth or fifth most powerful, Papua New Guinea? One suspects that a Test player could spontaneously combust on the main street of Goroka and it would be weeks before we found out about it, if at all.

In 2010, when the Australian Prime Ministers XIII played in Port Moresby, the political turmoil in the game there reached such a nadir there that the Kumuls side had no food in camp and the Australians’ bus didn’t show to take them to Lloyd Robson Oval.

Ever since, Australian authorities – with the tacit co-operation of the Federal Government which provides millions of dollars in rugby league-related funding to PNG each year – have been using the carrot method to effect changes in the only country where our game is the national sport.

In 2010, the Australian Government froze $4 million in annual funding which had been set aside for rugby league in PNG, ostensibly in protest of the administration of Gary Juffa, previously the national customs commissioner.

Juffa came to power at a time that millions of kina had come into the game as a result of the government’s backing for an NRL franchise. Ousted Albert Veratau launched legal action, claiming he had been deposed unconstitutionally, and the Federal Court reserved judgement with no date given for a ruling.

This left the PNGRFL without a viable administration. As part of a compromise, Vatatau was left in control of liason with overseas authorities and the Australian Government, and Juffa ran the international team.

Juffa reportedly wanted more of a say in selections and more domestic players representing the Kumuls. This set him against coach Adrian Lam. When the former Wigan star quit, he was replaced by British favourite – and close friend of Juffa – Stanley Gene.

Gene oversaw a disappointing 2010 Four Nations campaign which saw the Kumuls loose 42-10 to Australia, 76-12 to New Zealand and 36-10 to England.

The PNG Bid for NRL inclusion has engulfed the game in PNG since then. Mal Meninga, originally an ambassador for the bid, stood down. It was suggested he disapproved of the taxpayers’ money being handed to Australian consultants for the bid.

The PNG Bid even became a sponsor of the Brisbane Broncos, with perimeter advertising at Suncorp Stadium.

But with the NRL’s announcement late last year that expansion was off the agenda for the time being, some sanity seems to have been restored to rugby league in PNG. The Kumuls played a pre-season game against South Sydney and the Rabbitohs promised to support a more sensible a bid for Queensland Cup inclusion.

The PNGRL – under the chairmanship of Don Fox (not that one) – has now officially switched its focus to the Queensland Cup. Adrian Lam is back on board, and there are reports in PNG that Meninga is back as well, as part of the World Cup coaching team.

Fox has also revived the PNG Origin fixture, pitting domestic players against those based overseas.

Lam told the PNGfacts website the overseas players he would consider included: James Segeyaro (Penrith), Neville Costigan (Newcastle), David Mead (Gold Coast), Joe Bond (Brisbane), Reece Martin (Sydney Roosters), Nini McDonald (Sydney Roosters), Tyson Martin (North Queensland), Rod Griffin (Gold Coast), Menzie Yere (Sheffield Eagles), Jesse Joe Parker (Whitehaven) and Paul Aiton (Wakefield).

The Origin game will take place sometime after the NRL grand final. The PNG v Australian Prime Ministers XIII game is also on the agenda for September and will probably give Australia coach Tim Sheens the chance to run the rule over players not involved in the NRL play-offs.

Sports minister Justin Tkatchencko appears to be the driving force in ending the feuding in PNG. H brought the warring parties together at a meeting in November, from which Fox was elected. The NRL Bid became the “Rugby League Foundation” and supported Fox, whose official title remains “interim chairman”.

Gene admitted in a recent interview that the NRL Bid had not been the waste of time he imagined, as it had helped with many grass roots programmes.

“We all should support the minister’s focus and if they want Mal Meninga as coach, we all must support them,” Gene told The National newspaper.

Former Kumuls winger Marcus Bai, on the other hand, is his country’s answer to Garry Schofield or Mark Geyer, speaking out against the administration on a number of occasions. He is being sued by Australian official Paul Broughton and his wife Bev and after they worked together on the NRL Bid, only for Bai to quit and make allegations of impropriety in the Gold Coast Bulletin.

Gene challenged Bai’s view of things but also criticised one aspect of the PNGRL’S operation – it’s lack of support for former internationals.

“They have been great ambassadors of the country playing rugby league but need jobs after they hang up their boots,” Gene said. “Currently the bulk of former Kumul players are jobless and have nothing to do compared to Australia and New Zealand.

“It is very sad to see a lot of Kumuls now walking the streets of our major cities and the towns they come from, literally doing nothing.”
Gene believes the PNGRL should be actively helping players get contracts overseas.

But the government’s financial support of the Kumuls’ 11-day stay in Sydney in February – for the Cabramatta Nines and the game against Souths – is seen as a positive sign by all involved.

In return, the Australian government finally released $4 million in funding on December 11.

“Four million dollars, which had been earmarked for Rugby League in PNG for a long time now is able to be spent on developing rugby league within schools,” he said.

“Over a three year pilot 50,000 children, 500 teachers across 80 schools in three provinces in PNG will benefit from participation in rugby league and that’s just fantastic.”

Indeed it is.

Filed for: FORTY20 MAGAZINE

FAR & WIDE: Number 20

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD
THE battle for control of the game in Italy has heated up with the establishment Italian Rugby League holding a meeting with the national Olympic Committee, CONI.
As keen rugby league fans would be aware, the two countries making their World Cup bows later this year – Italy and the United States – both have rebel competitions.
Speaking on the European Federation website, FIRL vice-president Tiziano Franchini says: “The meeting was crucial for the future of rugby league in Italy.
“Our request for an interview was received by the secretary general in a very quick and positive manner.
“This first meeting was an opportunity to make formal contact with the national body that manages the sport in Italy, to carry forward the process of official recognition of rugby league here.”
As hard as it is for Australians to understand, rugby league struggles in some countries to get official recognition as a separate sport to rugby union. In South Africa, the league was told by the sports ministry to affiliate with the SARU!
But we are happy to say the Trinidad and Tobago Rugby League has just been handed official government recognition.
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THE Russian national team may show up to the European championships without jerseys!
They are due to play Serbia on May 25 but are still desperately looking for a kit sponsor. It’s too cold in Europe this time of year to play naked.
As detailed above, the Russian Ministry of Sport doesn’t recognise rugby league. Russian deputy minister of sport Pavel Kolobkov is currently considering a new application for recognition.
In the meantime, if you can help the Russians with jerseys to compete on the international stage, please email webmaster@rugbyleagueplanet.com
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IN case you missed it, Mal Meninga has joined the PNG Kumuls management team.
Mal, who formerly was an ambassador for the country’s NRL bid team, has the role of performance director.
Adrian Lam is back as coach and Gold Coast winger David Mead has re-committed himself to the cause after a falling out with the previous administration.

MAHE Fonua was not the only Victorian junior on the field when Melbourne took on Canterbury on Thursday night.
Bulldogs fullback Drury Low played his junior football at the Waverley-Oakleigh and Altona clubs in the VRL. He represented Victoria in Under 15s and under 18s, playing alongside Gareth Widdop in the latter team.

Don’t forget to follow @RLWfarandwide on Twitter.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

BONDI BEAT: March 2013

Rugby League World March 2013By STEVE MASCORD

THIS is March, which means Bondi Beat again has to make a fool of itself with a bunch of predictions for the forthcoming National Rugby League season.

Last year we listed Five Things That Could Go Wrong in 2012. Did the Independent Commission isolate Australia internationally? Well, the green-and-golds refused to play at the end of the year but, on balance, no.

“England are forced to play a home series in October and November against minnow nations. No-one shows up, the national media ignore the games and England are even beaten in one of the matches”. Two out of three ain’t bad.

“New Zealand are comprehensively flogged in their only two Tests, both against Australia. The green and golds go into the World Cup next year as unbackable favourites”. The Kiwis were beaten, but not flogged;

“Rugby league writers continue to be laid off on national newspapers and budget cuts at the BBC lead to the sport largely disappearing from your radio dials.” One out of two again.

“More Super League clubs go bust and are deducted competition points while Manchester Magic fails to attract any more people than the last round of magic”. One out of two there.

Here’s five more predictions:

· Sonny Bill Williams’ return to rugby league to be messy, an ultimately unsuccessful. He won’t play in the World Cup and his biceps injury will severely interrupt his season;

· Parramatta to be the biggest improvers of the year, Manly the biggest sliders;

· Israel Folau to return to rugby league at the end of the season, with South Sydney;

· Canterbury to win the competition;

· New Zealand to win a successful World Cup.

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I HAD the pleasure recently of interviewing United States forward Curtis Cunz on the 40th floor or his Park Avenue office building.

That night, David Niu, Marcus Vassilakopoulos and the rest of the AMNRL heavies were to meet in the same office to discuss American Rugby League business.

No, I still don’t know what happened to their website. More of that in a sec.

But I do know, thanks to Curtis, that US will be playing Samoa in a World Cup warm-up match in Hawaii some time in October. How cool does that sound?

From a travel point of view, the warm-ups are almost as exciting as the tournament itself. Before the 2000 World Cup, I remember seeing South Africa host Wales in Pretoria one day, and England take on the US in Orlando the next!

Mind you, it is to be hoped that the countries who have qualified for RLWC2013 don’t just play each other but rather give the other nations an opportunity to earn some coin and exposure during early October.

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NICE fellow that Curtis is, a few months before the World Cup bow of the Tomahawks it is difficult to conceive of a more confusing situation that that confronting the AMNRL right now.

I fancy myself as a follower of these affairs and even I had missed a report from last May confirming the sale of the governing body to Grand Prix Sports, the organisation that wants to play the World Club Challenge in Las Vegas.

On the US business site marketwatch.com, Grand Prix Sports’ Neal Pilson explained the company’s interest in investing in both codes by saying: “While maintaining the independent integrity of the rugby union and rugby league operations, yet folding them under one production umbrella, we at Grand Prix felt from a broadcast perspective this transaction was a smart move to avoid unnecessary confusion in a US media market at a very critical time in rugby’s growth.”

That sounds very much like buying out a competitor, from a rugby union point of view, doesn’t it?

Grand Prix were supposed to put on the Tomahawks v Melbourne Storm game. It never happened, due to lack of funds. The AMNRL website has disappeared, with questions about its absence on Facebook going unanswered.

Meanwhile, Grand Prix Sports is promoting a rugby union sevens tournament in mid-year with ONE MILLION DOLLARS as the first prize!

It would appear the AMNRL and its new owner are not on fantastic terms. Meanwhile, the rival USARL struggles on, with its players still expecting to be locked out of World Cup selection.

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THE worth of contracts in the NRL has never been more in question.

Penrith and Australia centre Michael Jennings was not appreciated at the foot of the mountains, even though he had three years left on his contract there.

Gold Coast, South Sydney and Sydney Roosters all showed interest. When he ended up at the Roosters, it set in train a chain reaction which illustrates just how weird the player market down under has become.

Souths instead signed Beau Champion back from the Titans. And the Titans then attempted to snare Jamie Lyon – Manly’s CAPTAIN – immediately, with less than two months remaining until the end of the season!

Lyon, who in 2004 was roundly criticised for walking out on Parramatta mid season, en route to St Helens, issued a statement denying that he wanted out of the Sea Eagles.

But when new Titans CEO David May approached Manly rival David Perry to ask about Lyon’s availability, he was reportedly “left with the impression” that the door was open.

Add to this the fact that clubs regularly contribute to the wages of players who have left, to relieve salary cap pressure, and you have a confusing situation for fans.

We used to look at the Brits and their custom of “loaning” players to rival clubs and scratch our heads. But in retrospect it’s a whole lot cleaner and more sensible than some of the things going on in the NRL right now.

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IF YOU are a regular reader of this column, you’d be aware I am not a big fan of taxpayers’ money in PNG being spent on a bid for NRL inclusion.

On the other hand, inclusion in the Queensland Cup seems infinitely less expensive and more practical.

To that end, South Sydney are linking their premiership game in Cairns on June 16 with the pre-season game against the Kumuls at Redfern Oval on February 9.

The Cairns league has a strong relationship with PNG – for obvious geographic reasons – and the Kumuls candidacy for Q Cup inclusion will be promoted during at the June game.

Souths could even end up shifting a home game to Port Moresby at some stage in the future.

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ONE of the more startling stories written in recent weeks suggested that if Craig Bellamy was to leave Melbourne, captain Cameron Smith could take over as player-coach!

Bondi Beat would have thought captain-coaches went out with contested scrums.

Has anyone seen what coaches do these days? And Craig Bellamy spends more time coaching than most.

Although ‘Bellyache’ does manage to stay as fit as the players. So I supposed the least they can do is be as smart as him.

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WE all have our ideas on what issues the ARL Commission should address, particularly when it comes to things we believe have been overlooked until now.

For me, it’s taking responsibility for Australia’s leadership of the international game.

For historians and journalists like Ian Heads, David Middleton, Sean Fagan, Gary Lester and Geoff Armstrong, it’s determining which was the first rugby league club in Australia.

Newtown have long laid claim to this distinction but the pointy-heads say Glebe held a meeting on January 9, 1908, which committed them to the new code.

Newtown stand accused of adding “January 8, 1908” to their minutes of their first meeting “at a later date” to give them bragging rights.

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GREAT to see Super League spending some money to show the ‘League Of The Extraordinary’ advert to a wider audience.

We’re yet to hear much about the NRL’s advertising strategy for 2013 at this stage. But give the trouble our players are capable of getting into, it’s unlikely it will focus on just one or two of them.

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YOU’D expect me to say something here about Jon Mannah, the 23-year-old former Parramatta and Cronulla forward who passed away from cancer during the last month, and I want to.

Much has been made of the Christian faith observed by Jon and his brother Tim.

But regardless of faith, the bravery which Jon showed in the face of a terrible, painful illness should be a lesson to us all.

The end is what gives the beginning and middle of life meaning, I guess. But this end came way too soon.

Vail Jon Mannah.

Follow @BondiBeat on Twitter.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD

DISCORD 2013: Edition Six

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

THE publicity surround the use of supplements in the AFL – and the links to rugby league – raises an interesting ethical question.

Anti-doping authorities are there to prevent “cheating” – performance enhancing substances that give an athlete or team an unfair advantage over rivals. That’s what this story is all about, so far.

But should a governing body, a doping body and a public also take into account players’ long-term health and the damage being done by some of their practices as their club seeks ‘an edge’? Or should we just leave it to them as adults to make their own decisions?

In the last 12 months, a number of people have expressed concern about the use of painkillers by players unable to sleep and/or desperate not to lose their place in the team. Some people will argue that painkillers are in themselves performance enhancing because they allow you to do things you wouldn’t be able to do without them.

Let’s leave that argument aside and just ask this: does the governing body have a duty of care to prevent long-term, chronic injury and illness in athletes, after they retire?

As for anti-inflamatories, anyone who has taken them would have heard a warning about how reliance on them can lead to heart disease. Our players spend their entire careers gobbling the things.

From a theoretical point of view, we have already crossed the line between preventing cheating and changing rules to protect players’ health according to new medical information.

We did it by tightening the rules surrounding concussion.

So it stands to reason that in the years ahead, tighter legislation will come in to regulate the use of painkillers, anti-inflamatories and supplements that do not constitute cheating but are bad for our players.

The higher the stakes, the further our clubs and players will go in the quest for success. Our vigilance has to keep pace with that escalation.

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SOUTH Sydney could end up transferring a home game or two to Port Moresby as a result of the relationships forged in the lead-up to this Sunday’s pre-season game at Redfern Oval.

No, I’m serious.

While the idea of having an NRL team in PNG remains as far off as ever, Souths are getting behind the Kumuls’ bid for inclusion in Queensland’s Intrust Super Cup. The Rabbitohs’ June 16 premiership game in Cairns on June 16 will also help promote the Kumuls’ cause.

If things go well, Souths could transfer a home game a bit further up the road than Gosford.

“We are excited by our association with PNG and the game against the Kumuls at Redfern. Hopefully an NRL fixture can be hosted there in the future,” Rabbitohs chief executive Shane Richardson said.
“To do this facilities need to be upgraded significantly.”

Congrats to Souths for thinking outside the box and playing Warrington last year and PNG this year in the Return To Redfern match.

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THIS column’s key element is interaction and to that end I am going to step things up a little bit this year by doing live chats from press boxes all season, deadlines permitting of course.

read on

No.1 Fits Mead Well

By STEVE  MASCORD

THE conditions were hardly reminiscent of Papua New Guinea or even Queensland but David Mead reckons he stumbled upon his playing future last Friday.

Filling fullback for the in-form William Zillman (shoulder), the Kumuls star was surprised how smoothly he slipped into the position during the 24-16 loss to Melbourne at chilly, wet AAMI Park.

“I really enjoyed it – it’s a lot more running so you need to be fitter,” said Mead. “I didn’t mind the weather, actually – it wasn’t too hot.

“I’ll have to keep my fitness up and hopefully make that a career path.

“ It’s good to get your hands on the ball a bit more and you can catch out some forwards up the middle … there’s an opportunity there.”

Mead – who stressed he was happy to continue on the wing when Zillman returns – has turned his back on PNG, saying he has no faith in the administration, but RLIF official Tas Baitieri is keen to tempt him back.

“There will be some changes up there which hopefully will win David over,” Baitieri says.

One of them is the plan for the Kumuls to play South Sydney at Redfern Oval on February 9 next year.

“Really?” Mead said, when told of the game. “That’s the first I’ve heard of it. I don’t know what to say. I’ll find out more and let you guys know.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK