By Sylvester Gawi in Lae
Papua New Guinea’s Mendi Butterflies rugby league team has claimed the coveted 2017-2018 Coca Cola Ipatas Cup in Lae, dedicating their victory to their beloved people who have been devastated by last month’s earthquake in Southern Highlands province.
“Election related violence and the recent earthquake disaster in the Southern Highlands province have hampered our preparation and training, but we have worked hard to come this far,” an excited skipper Pore John told NBC News.
Mendi OLCO Butterflies won the Ipatas cup and K50,000 (NZ$22,000) prize money for the third time in 18 years after edging out a spirited Wapenamanda Brothers 20-17 in extra time at the weekend.
“We weren’t expecting to come this far, but the commitment shown by the players has been the force behind the win,” said John.
The Ipatas Cup is the biggest offseason rugby league compettion in Papua New Guinea which has attracted 138 teams in its 2017-2018 season.
Another Southern Highlands team, Mendi Bulldogs, also finished fourth in the competition, collecting a K10,000 prize (NZ$4,200).
On Saturday, the Mendi Rugby League and Mendi Muruks franchise were hosted to a trial match with the Enga Mioks. The gate takings were being split between the two provinces to assist disaster relief efforts.
100 plus deaths
The 7.5 magnitude earthquake that struck the Highlands region on February 26 has claimed more than 100 lives and left thousands of people homelessa and their food gardens destroyed.
The Mendi rugby League field at Tente was also damaged by the earthquake.
The Mendi teams worked hard over the past two weeks to prepare for the finals and the achievement was sweet with some of their players being snatched by Digicel Cup teams.
The Ipatas Cup trophy will be brought over to the disaster-devasted township of Mendi today where it will spend a week before returning to Lae.
Sylvester Gawi is a Lae-based journalist for NBC News and blogs independently at Graun Blong Mi- My Land.