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Mead's emotional PNG homecoming

It's been six years since David Mead has worn the colours of the Kumuls in his homeland and he knows full well that leading Papua New Guinea out onto the National Football Stadium on Saturday will tug hard on the heart strings.
A passionate Papua New Guinean who at one time in his career was disillusioned with the state of the game in PNG, Mead will have the honour of leading the Kumuls out for the first World Cup game ever played in PNG in front of a crowd that may be just as big outside the ground as the 25,000 who will create a deafening atmosphere from within.
Hosting all three of their pool matches in Port Moresby against Wales, USA and Ireland is such an advantage for the Kumuls that they are daring to look as far as a semi-final showdown with one of the game's superpowers.
That would represent a monumental achievement for a team that hasn't won a single World Cup fixture since the 2000 tournament played in England and France but one that both Mead and coach Michael Marum believe is well within reach.
Given the PNG Hunters' historic Intrust Super Cup premiership this season the passion that the PNG people have for rugby league is on the brink of overflowing, Marum joking at the World Cup launch in Brisbane that the local constabulary would be wise to call for back-up to assist with crowd control.
Experienced Queensland Rugby League officials say the noise generated by the crowd during the Hunters' win over Redcliffe in the grand final qualifier was greater than anything they had experienced either at Origin or Test level yet it will pale in comparison to what happens this Saturday.
Whether playing for the Hunters or Kumuls the PNG players are mobbed wherever they go and Mead says the challenge for the entire team will be channelling that energy and expectation into a win against Wales.
"The bus ride in is going to be pretty crazy but all the players are expecting that," Mead told NRL.com.
"There's no doubt the crowd's going to be loud. It's going to be a guaranteed sell-out that's for sure.
"People are going to miss out on buying tickets and there are going to be a lot of people waiting outside as well.
"It will be pretty emotional running out so it's going to be a matter of controlling those emotions.
"You can play on emotion but you've got to try and control it a bit.
"You can never really control the butterflies in the stomach – I get them every game in first grade –but this is slightly different.
"The boys can get pretty fired up and pretty excited so it's just about controlling our emotions.
"It's going to be pretty emotional the first time we run out so it's just about controlling that and making sure we go out and do our best.
"All my family lives there and they're all going to the game so to run out and know that I'm representing them will give me some extra energy and make it a bit more extra special not just for me but all the PNG players."
Mead was given a taste of what to expect on Saturday having played for Wynnum in their Round 24 clash with the Hunters in Moresby, the game that saw the Hunters wrap up the Intrust Super Cup minor premiership and secure a home final.
He also returned during the NRL season to visit with family and distribute some Broncos merchandise at the Port Moresby Hospital, acutely aware of how the nation's footy teams affect the people of PNG.
"The Hunters provided a lot of happiness for the country," said Mead, who has played just five games previously in PNG during his career.
"Obviously they won a lot of games this year and went on to win the Queensland Cup and a lot of the people just get so much joy from not just the Hunters but a lot of the local rugby league as well.
"Rugby league is kind of like a religion over there, people praise it, they are so passionate and every time the team bus drives past people on the way to training, the people get out of their seats and jump up and down.
"It's a pretty amazing experience but I'm also excited for the other teams that will come to PNG to experience it.
"There's no doubt it's going to be in their memories forever."

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