The Papua New Guinea National Women’s Soccer League has already lived up to the hype with seven captivating encounters taking place in Port Moresby and Lae over the weekend.
Papua New Guinea Football Association President, John Kapi Natto, was at Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium in Lae to take in the four Northern Conference matches, and said the next national team selectors will have their work cut out for them based on the skill and talent on display on day one of the long-awaited competition.
Kicking things off in Lae was a showdown between Tusbab Laidamon FC and Bara FC which left the two sides inseparable in a 2-all draw.
Tusbab are a newly formed side led by coach Rachel Wadunah, and boasting Papua New Guinea’s lone World Cup goalscorer Nicolette Ageva as captain.
“It was supposed to be our game but we lost two of our clear goals, but I am confident our two strikers Christy Maniu and Sagude Zale have taken note and we will have to prepare them to take on Poro,” Wadunah said.
Lae-based Bara are coached by Edna Thomas and while they have Rita Mayang and Eunice Nabalu, who made their international debuts at the OFC Women’s Nations Cup in 2018, the majority of the squad only have regional football experience they can call on.
Poro FC’s 5-1 win over Rainy Lae reflected the talent and experience present not just on the field, but off it too.
Senior internationals Judith and Meagen Gunemba lend more than a little experience to the side, with fellow Gunemba’s Anasthasia, Beatrice and Nadia also in the squad along with internationals Betty Sem, Talitha Irakau and Georgina Bakani.
The familial ties don’t end with there, with head coach Nigel Dabinyaba joined by brothers Raymond and Troy Gunemba as assistants, and their father Peter, former Lae City Dwellers and women’s national team coach, lending his technical expertise.
Rainy Lae, meanwhile, are led by Kapul’s goalkeeper Ismael Pole and his teammate Alex Kamen who are working hard to build a strong foundation for their team.
Pole said the clear areas for improvement are in defence and goalkeeping, however believes improvements will come as the season continues.
“It’s too early to surrender but Rainy Lae FC will welcome any challenge as the season goes by,” he said.
Eastern Highlands side Pacific Gardens FC took on Morobe Tulips FC in what proved a competitive encounter between the two sides.
The majority of the Ara Midi-coached Pacific Gardens squad are making their debut at this level of competition, but still managed to force the best out of their opponents. Up-front the Sarahu sisters, Shiela and Fredish, proved they’ll be a tough pairing to close down, while defender Ethel was equally outstanding in her role.
Despite displaying heart, Pacific Gardens couldn’t quite hold of their opponents with U-19 international Ruth Giada finding the net twice to give the Lae-Nadzab Highway side an opening victory.
The final match in Lae saw Sepik FC draw 1-1 with Markham Raings in an entertaining crowd-pleaser.
Sepik took the lead in the first half thanks to a strike from Sharlyn Jigi, who was partnered up-front by Juanneth Mistera, however the side from East-Sepik Province couldn’t maintain their hold on the lead as Vivianne Jerry netted to pull Markham Raings level.
Sepik team manager Nathan Loi said the opening encounter was a good experience for the squad as they work on familiarising themselves with their opponents.
“We’re looking forward to Round 2 as we believe our players will be in a better position to take on their next opponents,” Loi said.
The Sepik squad is based in Lae for the duration of the competition, given the logistics of trying to travel to Wewak and back every week via Madang.
In the Southern Conference, Hekari United, FC Genesis and Port Moresby City have set the pace with three relatively perfect starts to the competition.
NCD Hekari United made a strong impression on the competition with a 13-1 victory over Amoana FC. Marie Kaipu, who has scored in the past two Pacific Games finals for Papua New Guinea, showed she’s just as motivated on the domestic scene after notching eight of her side’s 13 goals.
NCD Hekari United coach Erickson Komeng said the first game is always the toughest, especially because of the unknown factors.
“You never know how the other teams play, but the girls played well and I’m happy for the win,” he said.
“We started training seven weeks ago and there’s a lot of improvement in our game. The win doesn’t mean we are comfortable however, we still have to work hard to face the other teams.”
Genesis’s experienced squad members also proved the difference in their 3-0 win over Port Moresby City Academy.
Former Papua New Guinea U-20 captain Yvonne Gabong was on-form to secure an opening match hat-trick, also taking the majority of her side’s 22 shots on goal.
FC Genesis coach Percy Mataio said it was a pleasing performance from the players, but leaves plenty of areas to work on.
“We came expecting to win this game and we did. It wasn’t the prettiest of wins we could expect, but a win is a win. We will enjoy the moment before we start to work on areas we need to improve on.
“We are just excited to be part of this competition, it has been a long time coming for women’s football. We’re happy to be able to allow these girls to play for the first time, and to win in the opening match is a bonus for us,” Mataio said.
POM Academy coach Miriam Lanta said it was a decent first-up performance for her developing squad of players.
“We have a youthful side and were playing against an experienced side, but we did well by limiting their chances to score. The girls never give up, they keep fighting until the final whistle.”
The final match of the Southern Conference had Port Moresby City earning a 3-0 win over NCD FC.
Former international Ramona Morris and Haiyap Israel got on the scoreboard for POM City, before an devestating own-goal from NCD captain Vanessa Sole sealed the victory.
“I’m happy with the scoreline,” POM City coach Frederica Sakette said.
“I thought we could ahve done better, but this is just our first match.”