Goals Galore as Lae City and Hekari Continue to Dominate NSL

There were thirty-six goals scored across six matches in the Papua New Guinea National Soccer League this weekend, as Lae City put eleven past Northern Youth FC, Morobe Wawens and Sepik enjoyed a ding-dong battle, sharing thirteen goals between them, while Hekari United put four past Southern Youth without reply.

Hekari United extended their 100% record with a 4–0 win over Southern Youth this weekend. Photo: PNGFA

There were goals in all three of the other games too in an entertaining afternoon in Lae and Port Moresby, but it is becoming increasingly clear that Lae City and Hekari United are the teams to beat in this year’s competition, with both teams sitting on a 100% record from their opening three fixtures.

In the two opening fixtures, the experienced core of Lae City Dwellers took on the youthful exuberance of Tusbab Stallions, and the two sides emerged with a share of the spoils after scoring a goal apiece. The result is the first draw of this year’s competition, but it’s difficult to gauge which side will be happier with the single point.

Dwellers, who claim up to four of the previous NSL titles, will be happy with the point after their 4–1 defeat to rivals Lae City last weekend, but may feel they ought to be doing better against far less experienced opposition. Freddy Steven scored for the Dwellers, while Alex Joel’s goal was enough to secure a point for Stallions, who are desperate to reach the playoffs after two seasons in which they have faded badly towards the end of the season.

Central Dabari and Tavur players tussle for the ball during Central’s 2-1 victory on Saturday. Source: PNGFA

Meanwhile, in Port Moresby, islanders Tavur FC took the lead through Francis Wibewa against the returning Central Dabari, but Iga Kala’s second goal of the season and super-sub Kawai Vakona dragged Dabari to victory, their second of the season.

Iga Kala is a relatively new face to the NSL, but has impressed in the opening three games for Dabari, only failing to score in their opening fixture against Gulf Komara, and the side will need him to remain on fire if they’re to push for their desired playoff spot alongside the likes of Komara and Hekari United.

In the 1pm kick-offs, the major action was to be found in Lae as Morobe Wawens and Sepik FC shared thirteen goals between them, with Wawens attacker Joshua Panget scoring five goals as he led his side to an incredible 9–4 victory over the Wewak-based side.

Wawens also scored through Bernard Purari, who has scored in every single game so far this season, as well as Giwi Simon, Brendan Ben, and Emmanuel Simongi. Wawens have shown skill and maturity that they haven’t demonstrated in several seasons, thanks partly to players they have brought in from other clubs in the off season.

Three of their scorers this week were playing for other sides last season, with Giwi Simon having been recruited from Morobe United, and Bernard Purari and Emmanuel Simongi coming from defunct sides FC Kutubu and FC Bougainville respectively.

Sepik’s goals came from Sadeth Nere, Ezekiel Yanum, Henry Salle, and Junior Moike, all of whom appear to have little to no experience of NSL football. That said, scoring four goals against a former OFC Champions League competitor is no mean feat, so congratulations must go to Sepik for doing so, and perhaps also some advice to work on their defensive structure ahead of their fixture next week.

Recruited players also led the way for POM Strikers as they picked up their first points of the season after coming from behind to beat Star Mountain. Riggie Togubai and Pettyshen Elizah came back to haunt their former club with a goal apiece, which cancelled out David Mosim’s opener for the Tabubil-based side.

A POM Strikers attacker is sent flying following a tackle from a Star Mountain defender in their clash on Saturday. Photo: PNGFA

Star Mountain have now lost three on the trot, and look to be struggling to find their feet in the division, despite having recruited well during the off-season themselves. The side brought in four players from the withdrawing FC Bougainville – goalscorer Mosim, Eaka Philemon – who scored their solitary goal against Hekari United on the opening day – Basil Jofari and Steven Inia, as well as Joel Tiampo and Russell Kambaka from Vitiaz United. But so far the signings have failed to gel, and the side look bereft of ideas.

The final two fixtures of the day saw both development sides offered up as sacrificial lambs to the biggest sides in the league. Northern Youth FC were slaughtered by reigning champions Lae City, who pummelled eleven goals past the poor youngsters, with Jonathan Allen scoring four, Stahl Gubag and Emmanuel Simon scoring a brace each, and Jibola Afonji, Junior Morgan and Felix Komolong all getting in on the action.

The results sees Lae City maintain their three-point lead ahead of Morobe Wawens, with their major rivals Lae City Dwellers a further five point back in fourth place.

Kolu Kepo jumps for the ball against Southern Youth FC in their 4–0 victory on Saturday. Photo: PNGFA

Meanwhile, Hekari United also demonstrated their continued dominance of the Southern Conference with a comfortable 4–0 victory over Southern Youth FC. Nigel Dabinyaba scored a hat-trick to put himself on seven goals for the season after just three games, clear of Wawens’ Panget in second place.

Despite being three points clear at the top of the table, though, Hekari should still be wary of Gulf Komara behind them, who were on a bye this week and have won two out of two so far.

Lae City Win Early Rivals Clash while Hekari Smash Five Past Tavur

Lae City FC defeated breakaway rivals Lae City Dwellers by four goals to one in a wet clash in Lae earlier today, stamping their authority on the 2021 Papua New Guinea National Soccer League Northern Conference by becoming the only side with two wins from two, while Hekari United once again won by five goals in a 5–0 thrashing of returning side Tavur FC.

Raymond Gunemba (right) battles for the ball against Lae City FC on a rainy afternoon in Lae. Photo: PNGFA

However, there were matters to be settled before arguably the two title favourites took to the field on Saturday in Lae and in Port Moresby. In Lae, Morobe Wawens recovered from their opening-day defeat with a 3–1 victory over Tusbab Stallions. Wawens, who relied heavily on recruits from now-defunct sides, showed some fight and resilience in their narrow defeat to Lae City last weekend, and this proved to be too much for the young Stallions team, who went behind in the first half and showed no real signs of being able to recover.

Wawens, who are now managed by Percy Mataio, opened the scoring through former Morobe United attacker Giwi Simon, before long-time Wawens striker Joshua Panget scored their second to give them a more comfortable lead. Stallions rallied somewhat in the second half, scoring through new recruit Charlie Kamah, but former Bougainville striker Bernard Purari put the game beyond doubt with his second of the season for Wawens late on.

Meanwhile, in Port Moresby, Star Mountain took on Central Dabari in the opening match at the PNG Football Stadium. Star Mountain opened the scoring after a mazy run was finished by Joel Tiampo in the first half, but two second-half goals from Kila Tau and super-sub Karo Iga secured Dabari’s first win since their return to NSL action. Vice-captain and striker Ryan Gerega won the man of the match for the side after his skilful creative play helped to set up Dabari’s two second-half goals.

Central Dabari’s graphic depicting Iga Kala scoring the winner against Star Mountain. Photo: Central Dabari Facebook Page

Then came the big boys – Lae City took on Lae City Dwellers in Lae at the same time as Hekari United lined up against newcomers Tavur FC in Port Moresby, with most eyes fixed upon the huge rival clash between the two Lae-based teams. Would Lae City stamp their authority on their breakaway cousins, or would Peter Gunemba and his new side prove their point with a victory?

It was a strong start for Bob Morris’ Lae City side, with former Tusbab Stallions forward Stahl Gubag scoring a brace before half-time to put Lae City two goals up. With the rain then starting to pour, both sides had to adjust to a rather waterlogged pitch, and it was Dwellers who adjusted first, with none other than Raymond Gunemba pulling a goal back for his father’s side.

But Morris reshuffled and made good use of the attacking options in his squad, punting the ball long for pacy forwards Jibola Afonji and Jonathan Allen to chase, and both attackers scored one each as Lae emerged 4–1 victors over their fierce rivals.

Meanwhile, in Port Moresby, it was less of a competition. Following their defeat last week to Southern Youth, not much was expected of Tavur against eight-time champions Hekari, and it was to prove exactly so as Hekari romped to a 5–0 victory over the returners. It was the veterans who led the line for Hekari this week, with two goals each for Koriak Upaiga and Nigel Dabinyaba – the latter of whom now has four in two games – and a clincher for 35-year-old Michael Foster.

The final two clashes of the week saw Sepik FC and Port Moresby Strikers take part in semi-professional competition for the first time this season, after both having byes on the opening weekend. However, neither side got off to a winning start, with Sepik losing 5–0 to Morobe United, who picked up their first victory of the season, and Port Moresby Strikers suffered a 2–1 defeat to Gulf Komara, who have picked up where they left off last season with two wins in their opening two games.

Sepik FC lined up in the PNG NSL for the first time in 12 years on Saturday. Photo: Sepik FC Facebook Group

Sepik kept Morobe United at bay for the majority of the first half, with just a solitary goal from central midfielder Henry Ronny separating the two sides on half time, but Morobe piled on the pressure in the second half, scoring four more goals through Russell Nirik, former Hekari midfielder Vincent Tai, and a brace from Nalau Peter.

Meanwhile, all three goals between Gulf Komara and POM Strikers were scored in the first half, with Jordan Kaven hitting his second goal in two games in the 9th minute before Ilagi Geno doubling their advantage in the 25th minute. Riggie Togubai pulled one back for POM Strikers on the brink of half-time, but the returning side were unable to press for an equaliser and opened their campaign with a defeat.

Port Moresby Strikers have recruited from far and wide ahead of the new season, having brought in Gregory Togubai, Ishmael Pole and Patrick Aisa from Hekari United, Mathias Oyabua and Randall Passam from Vitiaz United, Pettyshen Elizah, Riggie Togubai and William Yumb from Star Mountain, and Dinniget Luaine and Oberth Simon from FC Kutubu. The side looks, on paper, fairly strong, but it will surely take time for the players to gel together in the team. They could certainly be expected to get stronger as the season progresses into the latter stages.

So three sides have two wins from two – Lae City lead the way alone in the Northern Conference, while both Hekari United and Gulf Komara have a 100% record going into week 3. It’s shaping up to be an interesting season.

Hekari United Stamp Authority on NSL with Six-Goal Romp on Opening Day

Hekari United were easily the most impressive side on the opening day of the 2021 Papua New Guinea National Soccer League, after they put six goals past Star Mountain to send a message to the other teams in the competition that they are a force to be reckoned with. More than anything else, though, this weekend was a chance to see most of the teams in action for the first time in almost a year and a half.

Hekari United lined up at the PNG Football Stadium in Port Moresby with several familiar faces, including Michael Foster, Koriak Upaiga, and Daniel Joe, and it was experienced strikers Kolu Kepo and Nigel Dabinyaba that made the difference in this clash against Star Mountain, with both men scoring two goals in the rout.

However, the side also managed to blend a mix of youth with their experience, with several youngsters coming into the side – most notably, Andrew Baniau, the 19-year-old goalkeeper signed from Vitiaz United, and 19-year-old defender Moses Joe, who lined up alongside Clement Willis – another new recruit from FC Bougainville – at centre-back.

Hekari United’s line-up for their first match of the season. Back row, left to right: Michael Foster, Nigel Dabinyaba, Kolu Kepo, Andrew Baniau, Moses Joe, David Muta (C). Front row, left to right: Daniel Joe, Koriak Upaiga, Solomon Rani, Clement Willis, Peter Dabinyaba Jr. Photo: PNGFA

But there was a breakout performance from young midfielder Solomon Rani, who turned 19 in May, who dictated play in the midfield alongside captain David Muta and also provided a surprise attacking threat, also managing to pick up two goals to draw him alongside Kepo and Dabinyaba on the scoresheet, with Star Mountain only managing a consolation.

In the second match in the Papuan capital, last year’s 4th-placed side Gulf Komara got their campaign off to a winning start with a narrow victory over returning Central Dabari FC. The decisive goal came courtesy of Jordan Kaven, the side’s joint top scorer from last season, whose goal earned them a 1–0 opening day victory.

A player from Central Dabari (blue) holds off a Gulf Komara attacker (black) in their match on Saturday. Photo: PNGFA

In the final game of the day, we saw glimpses of a bright future as Southern Youth FC managed to secure a morale-boosting win against Tavur FC, the only side hailing from an island province in this year’s competition. Two goals from Nathaniel Eddie Jack were enough to see Southern Youth past their opponents, with Tavur’s Melky Kaiwa scoring the consolation.

In the Northern Conference, several fans were keen to see how Lae City FC and Lae City Dwellers would fare as two separate entities, and it both sides showed they still know how to find the winning formula despite neither side looking particularly fluid in their opening fixtures.

It was the turn of Lae City first, who took on Morobe Wawens at the Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium in Lae, and despite the side dominating the first half of the match, they were unable to score more than two goals, with Nigerian recruit Jibola Afonji and ex-Tusbab Stallions front man Stahl Gubag giving the side a 2–0 lead at half-time.

However, Wawens grew into the game, and had periods of supremacy in the second half, even managing to pull a goal back through Bernard Purari. However, led by Alwin and Felix Komolong, the Lae City defence stood firm and held out until the final whistle, getting the league champions off to a winning start.

Next up was Tusbab Stallions against a much-strengthened Morobe United, who had recruited several players from the withdrawing Vitiaz United, including influential midfielder Eliud Fugre and lethal finisher Mathew David – who scored four goals in a 6–3 victory over Stallions in last year’s competition.

Tusbab Stallions’ line-up. Source: Tusbab Stallions

However, it was Stallions who came away with the victory, thanks to a first-half goal from Maskulan Pulung followed by a magnificent defensive display led by captain Richie Apisa and newly recruited goalkeeper Glen Agat.

The final game in Lae saw the return of Lae City Dwellers, who were given a somewhat straightforward opening-day fixture against Northern Youth FC, but despite the apparent ease of their fixture, they made hard work of it. Goals from Joel Seske, Raymond Gunemba and Michael Joseph were almost cancelled out by two goals from the Northern Youth boys, including a late goal which made the final few moments a little edgy for the Dwellers’ lads, and they will need to improve if they’re to stand a chance of challenging for the title and a triumphant return to NSL football.

PNG National Soccer League 2021 Season Preview

With the Papua New Guinea National Soccer League set to kick off on 24th July, we’ve put together a full preview of the fourteen teams involved, including their previous achievements, current squad news, and a prediction as to where they might finish.

Northern Conference

Lae City Dwellers

Potted History
Rising from the ashes of a club that still exists, Lae City Dwellers is what happens when a foreign owner fires a manager who has most of the first team squad in his back pocket. Manager Peter Gunemba has rallied against his sacking from Lae City FC last season and returned to the NSL with a club that has the same name as the previous name of the club he was sacked from. Confused? Join the club. Essentially, this means that Gunemba’s Dwellers will boast key players from Gunemba’s previous successful title victories, such as his own sons Troy and Raymond Gunemba, as well as defensive stalwart Valentine Nelson and ‘keeper Matheson Nasa, but without the financial clout. It also means there’ll be a mightily fierce derby when Dwellers play Lae City, with both sides desperate to assert their dominance over the other and lay claim to being the ‘true’ Lae City side.

Key Player – Raymond Gunemba
Could it really be anyone else? Raymond is a guaranteed starter with his father as manager, and the veteran international has proved he can score goals at the top level of football in the country for years.

Worst Case Scenario
The club finds it difficult to tempt old favourites away from Champions League-bound Lae City FC and ends up with a starting eleven made up of half ageing veterans and half untested youngsters, and they fail to make the impact they clearly want to.

Best Case Scenario
Glorious vindication. They destroy everyone in the conference and roll back the years, marching all the way to the Grand Final before putting the icing on the cake with a victory over Hekari United, sending the fans wild.

Lae City FC

Potted History
Despite the kerfuffle last season following Peter Gunemba’s exit and a mass exodus of players (see above), Lae City FC, owned by Ian Chow and managed by Bob Morris, managed to have a spectacular second half to their season and claim their sixth-successive league title, winning the Minor Premiership and the Grand Final in a clean sweep of domestic honours. With the newly founded Lae City Dwellers now a separate entity, Morris and his boys can return to some sense of normality, and draw on their extensive financial influence and solid core of players to dominate domestically once more. They have further strengthened their already impressive squad, having brought in talented youngsters Jonathan Allen – last season’s Golden Boot winner – and Yagi Yasasa from the withdrawing Vitiaz United, while Nigerian Afonja Jibola has arrived from Fiji to add international experience to their line-up.

Key Player – Stahl Gubag
The former Tusbab Stallions attacker struggled for form after arriving mid-season last year, but if the goalscoring midfielder settles into the season, he could well be key to the club delivering their seventh title in seven years.

Worst Case Scenario
The players who left to Lae City Dwellers actually were key to Lae City’s success, and as a result the club massively disappoints, losing to LCD twice over the course of the season and failing to qualify for the playoffs.

Best Case Scenario
A seventh title. The club does the double over rivals Dwellers and easily qualifies for the playoffs, eliminating Dwellers in the process, before thrashing Hekari in the final.

Morobe United

Potted History
A mainstay in the PNG National Soccer League over the years, Morobe United has endured while other franchises have come, had their moment in the sun, and disappeared forever. The demise of Vitiaz United (for now) has benefitted former runners-up Morobe United, as many of the players from Vitiaz – who were runners-up last season – have defected back to Morobe United, having gone in the other direction ahead of last season. That means goalkeeper Russell Chris is back, as well as midfield maestro Eliud Fugre, while the club have also retained the services of their better players from the last campaign. Eighth place last season was a true disappointment, but the club will be hoping for better this time around thanks to those key reinforcements.

Key Player – Mathew David
David arrived to Vitiaz from Lae City mid-season last year and was a revelation, scoring ten goals in six games between matchdays 10 and 15. He could well fire them into the playoffs this time around.

Worst Case Scenario
The core of the squad simply isn’t strong enough and the side endures another season of struggle, missing out on the playoffs and finishing the season well behind the leading pack.

Best Case Scenario
Fugre masters the midfield and David finishes every chance in sight, leaving the side top of the Northern Conference, before a shock run to the Grand Final culminates in them winning the title they have craved for so many years.

Morobe Wawens

Potted History
Back for a fourth straight year, Morobe Wawens continue to eschew the whole ‘let’s sign experienced players from other NSL clubs’ and instead continue to source their talent locally, using trials and local competitions to find raw talent to develop. It’s an admirable way to run a club, and it does mean that several players by now have a decent amount of top-level domestic experience. The only piece of transfer news is that Graham Berigami has joined from Tusbab Stallions, meaning the squad remains relatively similar to last season, with some new players coming in through the aforementioned trials, and a core of key squad players who will hope to improve on last season’s ninth-placed finish.

Key Player – Joshua Paget
Dallas Namuesh will be key to controlling midfield, but if Wawens are to make any sort of impact this season, they need a consistent goalscorer. 26-year-old Paget scored three last season, showing some decent promise, but more are required.

Worst Case Scenario
Progress continues at a snail’s pace and the club continues to languish at the bottom of the pecking order, with no real sense that things will ever get better following a defeat even to the development side.

Best Case Scenario
Consistency and stability begins to pay off and the club find themselves in a decent run of form, challenging the favourites for a playoff spot and scraping through to a semi-final, where they’re soundly beaten.

Northern Development Team

Potted History
It’s difficult to know what to say about a team that we literally know nothing about – there’s no logo, no official team name, and no information about which players will be playing for the side. The re-introduction of development teams into the competition hearkens back to the years of Besta PNG United, a national development side that competed for many years in the 2010s, and even reached the Grand Final in 2018. That side was responsible for many household names now, particularly Emmanuel Simon and more recently Jonathan Allen, so at the very least it’ll be interesting to see what kind of youngsters might emerge from this side in the years to come.

Key Player – ?

Worst Case Scenario
The youngsters are outclassed at every juncture, lose every single game, score a handful of goals and concede triple figures, and the concept is discarded ahead of next year.

Best Case Scenario
The management actually finds a core of really talented and energetic youngsters, who outrun and outplay the old boys, and somehow manage to sneak into the playoffs.

Sepik FC

Potted History
After a twelve-year absence, Sepik FC are back in the big leagues with a new logo and, more than likely, a set of players we have never seen before in the NSL. The majority of the side, according to the club’s Facebook group, is made up of local futsal talent, so whether or not they can convert their futsal skills into a successful NSL football team remains to be seen. In their only other NSL appearance, the side finished 7th in the 2008–09 season, picking up three victories in the competition including a win over that year’s runners-up, Rapatona. They will be hoping to do a little better this time around, although the playoffs are probably out of reach.

Key Player – ?

Worst Case Scenario
This ‘new’ team suffers from an obvious lack of experience and they are soundly thrashed by most of the big names. They struggle to overcome the development side as well and finish rock bottom of the conference.

Best Case Scenario
The fresh young stars of the side bring some much needed new talent to the NSL, with a couple of key players standing out before being snapped up by bigger clubs. The side manages a respectable finish in the conference.

Tusbab Stallions

Potted History
Now entering their third successive season in the NSL, ‘more than just a football club’ Tusbab Stallions boast support from sponsors and fans outside PNG, but have thus far not quite lived up to that potential in terms of league performance. After a tough first season, the side almost made it to the playoffs last season, sitting comfortably fourth at the halfway stage, before their best and brightest talents were snapped up by big boys Lae City, and they were unable to maintain that form into the second half of the season, eventually finishing 6th. This year, Madang’s sole representative at NSL level will be hoping to finally get through the whole season without fading dramatically in the final weeks.

Key Player – Ricky Wadunah
The 20-year-old midfielder is key to Tusbab’s successes, and demonstrates an intelligence and knowledge of the game that belies his young years. He is able to dictate the tempo of the game and spray delicious passes out wide or through the middle, and is the heartbeat of the team – they are often lost without him.

Worst Case Scenario
Same old story. An excellent start leads to several players coming under the radar, with mid-season seeing all of these players disappear off to bigger and better things. The club collapses in the second half of the season and must deal with another failure to reach the playoffs.

Best Case Scenario
Ricky Wadunah, alongside younger brother Jason, grow and mature into their midfield roles and light up the conference yet again, allowing Stallions to dominate possession in every game and secure a playoff place with ease before the regular season is even finished.

Southern Conference

Central Dabari

Potted History
With a new name and a new logo, Central Dabari are returning to the NSL after a one-year absence. The club, based in Central Province, are an intriguing prospect, as their players have generally come from outside of the player pool we might expect from a Port Moresby-based team. In 2019, they finished 5th in the Southern Conference, a little ways off the playoff spots after a late dip in form, with players such as captain Patrick Nota and midfield maestro Sebastian Kopi key to their good form in the early stages of the season. It remains to be seen how many of these players have been retained ahead of this season, but the club have a year of experience behind them and could well mount a challenge for the second playoff spot behind Hekari, if they play their cards right.

Key Player – Karo Iga
If he’s still with the club, Karo Iga will be Central’s main man up front this season. He is often lethal in front of goal, and will need to be kept well-fed with scoring opportunities if Central are to have any hope of challenging the big guns.

Worst Case Scenario
Zero progress. Central Dabari’s new logo and name doesn’t instantly make them title contenders, and they languish in the mid-table of the Conference for the majority of the season.

Best Case Scenario
A surprise playoff push. The side clicks from day one, and they record some upsets en route to a somewhat surprising second-placed finish in the division, before falling in the playoffs to a strong Northern franchise.

Gulf Komara

Potted History
Gulf Komara are slowly becoming one of the veteran sides of Papua New Guinea football, as they are now entering what will be their sixth successive campaign. They first took part in the competition in 2015–16, when the league last had a format like the one ahead of us this year, and finished 4th in the Southern Conference under the name of Erema FC. They joined several clubs in breaking away from PNGFA in 2017, and actually won the 2018 edition of the breakaway league ahead of Hekari and Morobe United. Last season was probably their most significant yet, with the side finishing 4th in both the regular season and the playoffs, and with several breakout stars emerging towards the end of the season. With reports suggesting they have retained the majority of their squad from last year, as well as securing the services of experienced midfielder Amon Meki, they might feel as though if they don’t make the playoffs, it’ll go down as a disappointment.

Key Player – Jordan Kaven
Attacking midfielder Kaven was key to Komara’s campaign last time around, scoring five goals across the season including three in the crucial final day 5–0 victory over Star Mountain which guaranteed their playoff spot.

Worst Case Scenario
A step backwards. Komara start sluggishly and can’t find their stride for the majority of the season, and a sprightly new side opens up a lead in the playoff race which the Gulf-based side cannot overturn.

Best Case Scenario
Komara return to the heights they reached in that 2018 National Premier League-winning season and pip Hekari to the conference championship, before a valiant run to the playoff final ends in defeat against one of the Lae sides.

Hekari United

Potted History
What is there to say about Hekari United that hasn’t already been said? The club were the first side outside of Australia and New Zealand to win the OFC Champions League all the way back in 2009–10 – that feat has only recently been repeated by Hienghène Sport of New Caledonia – and were the winners of the first eight editions of the PNG NSL. However, recent years have been more lean for the most famous side from the country, and aside from the 2017 breakaway league title, they haven’t won anything since 2014. Last year was arguably their best chance in recent years, following all the turmoil in Lae, but they slipped up in the playoffs against Vitiaz on penalties and had to settle for third place. Jerry Allen won’t be there this year, so it’s down to head coach Erickson Komeng to deliver Hekari fans that ninth title they’ve been dreaming of for years.

Key Player – Kolu Kepo
If Hekari are to win the title, lighting-quick striker Kepo needs to have an incredible season. All of the key attributes are there – he is faster than most other players in the country and can finish well – but some fine-tuning is needed to help him become one of Papua New Guinea’s all-time great strikers alongside Gunemba and Davani.

Worst Case Scenario
Anything but the title.

Best Case Scenario
Glorious victory. Hekari blast through the much weaker Southern Conference barely breaking sweat, while the Northern sides take chunks out of each other during the regular season. Hekari emerge into the playoffs fresh and focussed, and decisively win a ninth title.

Port Moresby Strikers

Potted History
Another club re-entering the league with a new club – although no new logo, as yet – Port Moresby Strikers are predominantly a youth development side which has never really shown much promise when it comes to competing at the top level of domestic competition. Their best season was their debut season, in 2018, when they finished 5th out of seven sides – this was, by the way, the final season before the league reunification, meaning that the quality of the field wasn’t particularly high that year anyway. Two years ago they finished bottom of the Southern Conference with just one win from fourteen games – which isn’t particularly promising.

Key Player – Ishmael Pole
Hekari United’s number one ‘keeper from last season, Ishmael Pole, has, together with former Hekari teammate Patrick Aisa, joined the Strikers for the upcoming season. What has inspired this shock switch to a far inferior side remains to be seen, but if Pole can recapture the form he showed last time around, the club will have a very safe pair of hands between the sticks.

Worst Case Scenario
The three Hekari signings do little to make up for the lack of experience in the young squad. The side struggle to find their footing and finish near the bottom of the conference.

Best Case Scenario
A strong early start occurs, with Pole a wall in goal and Aisa showing experience and nous up front, and the side are early challengers for a playoff place before eventually just falling short in the final weeks.

Southern Development Team

Potted History
As with the Northern Development Team, it’s difficult to know what to say about a team that we literally know nothing about. As yet there are no official squad lists, and it is unclear whether there will be any players who have previous experience at NSL level in either of the two development squads. However, it does give some talented youngsters a chance to shine in some big games, and while there’s little to no hope for the successes of the team itself, we’d love to see some fairy stories of young boys from local villages being picked up by the big boys over the course of the season.

Key Player – ?

Worst Case Scenario
The youngsters are outclassed at every juncture, lose every single game, score a handful of goals and concede triple figures, and the concept is discarded ahead of next year.

Best Case Scenario
The management actually finds a core of really talented and energetic youngsters, who outrun and outplay the old boys, and somehow manage to sneak into the playoffs.

Star Mountain

Potted History
Last season wasn’t a disaster for Star Mountain, and it certainly had its moments. The shock 2–1 victory over Hekari United which essentially denied them the Minor Premiership was something to behold, but coach Percy Mataio then left the club for FC Bougainville, and the side returned to mid-table mediocrity shortly afterwards. The second season finish of 7th certainly was an improvement from their 7th-placed finish in the Southern Conference in 2019, but there still seems to be a long way to go before this relatively new side starts challenging for playoff and eventually title honours at the end of the season. They will be hoping to not just make up the numbers, but everything suggests that’s exactly what they’ll be doing.

Key Player – Basil Jofari
Jofari, alongside fellow FC Bougainville teammate Eaka Philemon, have migrated to Star Mountain due to Bougainville’s absence from this year’s competition. Jofari showed a lot of promise in midfield and in attack last season, and could be a shrewd addition to the squad.

Worst Case Scenario
A step backwards. The club doesn’t build on their previous experience and fails to make an impact on the Southern Conference, losing more games than they win – by a significant margin – and finishing bottom, or close to it.

Best Case Scenario
The side enjoy a fine run of form and score goals galore to propel the side into playoff contention. A switch to a defensive stance in the final few games sees them actually sneak into the playoffs, before they are soundly beaten by a Lae-based side in the semi-finals.

Tavur FC

Potted History
Tavur FC are a reincarnation of the WNB Tavur side that we saw way back in the 2013 edition of the competition. The side, based on New Britain Island, came 7th out of eight sides in that particular season, but have since been competing in local and regional competitions. Not much is known about the player pool that is available to them – there’s a chance they may draw from the players who were at West Tribe in the 2019 edition, the only other side from West New Britain that have taken part in the NSL recently. Goalkeeper Alken Karapa was a stand-out performer in West Tribes’ playoff defeat to Hekari United in that season, so there’s a chance he may appear, but this is pure speculation. In reality, we know next to nothing about who will be in the squad and how they will perform.

Key Player – ?

Worst Case Scenario
The side shows little to no promise and is heavily thrashed by the likes of Hekari and Komara, and finish well down the table.

Best Case Scenario
The side gather together the best of New Britain and form a team to be proud of, making a decent push for the playoffs before ultimately missing out.

PNG NSL Set for Dual-Conference 2021 Season

Local media confirmed in the last couple of days that the 2021 Papua New Guinea National Soccer League will consist of two conferences of seven teams each, a swerve from the originally-planned 10-team single division.

The 2020 edition of the PNG National Soccer League is due to kick off in just over two weeks’ time.

The decision comes following recent news that Central United FC – rebranded under the name of Central Dabari FC – had made a late bid to enter the competition, and after the number of clubs that had expressed interest amounted to more than ten.

Each conference will also see a development side take part, with the Northern Development Team taking part in the Northern Conference, and the Southern Development Team taking part in the Southern Conference.

A total of seven teams will be returning after the 2019–20 edition, including six-time reigning champions Lae City FC, eight-time champions Hekari United, as well as Morobe United, Morobe Wawens, Tusbab Stallions, Gulf Komara, and Star Mountain.

Peter-Gunemba-led phoenix side Lae City Dwellers are one of the new sides, while Tavur FC and Sepik FC are returning following lengthy absences. The final side taking part is Port Moresby Strikers, which appears to be the new name of the Southern Strikers side that took part in the 2018 and 2019 editions of the competition.

The two conferences will be made up of the following teams:

Northern Conference: Sepik, Tusbab Stallions, Lae City, Lae City Dwellers, Morobe Wawens, Morobe United and Northern Development Team

Southern Conference: Port Moresby Strikers, Hekari United, Star Mountain, Gulf Komara, Central Dabaris, Tavur and Southern Development Team

The season is due to start on July 17.

Central United FC Make Late Bid for 2021 PNG National Soccer League

Central United FC, the club which made its Papua New Guinea National Soccer League debut in the 2019 edition, formally announced its late bid for the upcoming 2021 season today, along with a name change that will see it compete as Central Dabari FC.

Central United last competed in the Southern Conference of the 2019 NSL.

A late bid to enter this season’s competition was submitted to the Papua New Guinea Football Association in the past few days and was initially accepted, subject to meeting certain conditions, but the club has now confirmed that they have fulfilled the conditions within the timeframe set out to them.

The side, who last competed in the Southern Conference of the 2019 season, are also undergoing formalities that will change the franchise name to Central Dabari FC.

Franchise general manager Kamo Kini said: “There’s a lot of talent in the province and with the support provided by the Central Provincial Government, this should provide many of our young men an opportunity to participate at the highest level, and perhaps to further go on to represent Papua New Guinea at international level.”

Club president Maino Kwalimu and team manager Kalo Amona expressed their full appreciation to Central Provincial Government in extending its commitment towards the football club in its bid to enter the upcoming NSL season, with the kick off set for July 17.

Meanwhile, the football club is set to stage two trial matches, the first is scheduled for Saturday 19th June at Bisini Two Oval while the other is on the 26th of June. The names of players selected will be released through the media this week.

Central United’s debut campaign was somewhat mediocre, with the side finishing fifth out of eight teams in the 2019 Southern Conference.

Sepik FC, Tavur FC and Southern Strikers Set to Make PNG NSL Returns

Among the clubs in contention to compete in the 2021 Papua New Guinea National Soccer League are the likes of Sepik FC, Tavur FC and Southern Strikers, three sides who have previously competed in the country’s highest footballing competition and will be welcomed back into the semi-pro fold ahead of the new season.

Although the club list is yet to be confirmed, Sepik, Tavur, and Southern Strikers have paid the necessary fees and are awaiting news that they will officially be returning to NSL action after years away from top-level competition.

Southern Strikers are returning to the NSL after one season away.

Sepik FC last competed in the NSL way back in the 2008–09 season, with the club boasting several well-renowned players, including goalkeeper Ronald Warisan. The club finished 7th out of eight sides, but their return will be welcome news to fans in the East Sepik province of the country, who haven’t had a team in the NSL for many years.

Tavur FC last entered the competition as WNB Tavur in the 2013 edition, and was initially managed by Luke Muta, the father of brothers David Muta and Cyril Muta. The club, based in the West New Britain, one of the Island provinces of the nation, finished 7th out of eight sides back in 2013, but did not register for the following season. 2019 saw several teams hail from New Britain, including West Tribe, Greengold Liners, and the East New Britain pairing of Radazz FC and Gazelle FC, so there’s a chance we might see some of the more successful players from that campaign return, such as goalkeeper Alken Karapa, previously of West Tribe FC, whose goalkeeping heroics limited Hekari United to just two goals in the playoff quarter-finals of the 2019 season.

Finally, Southern Strikers – the most ‘recent’ of the returning teams. Southern Strikers debuted in the 2018 edition of the competition, finishing fifth and narrowly missing out on the playoffs. We also saw them in the 2019 edition, when they took part in the Southern Conference. However, the side had a less successful season, finishing bottom of the pool.

Elsewhere, as we have already reported, Lae City FC and Lae City Dwellers FC are both registered to compete, while there should be returns for Hekari United, Morobe Wawens, Tusbab Stallions, Star Mountain, and Gulf Komara.

Lae City Dwellers to Re-Unite Under Peter Gunemba

In a move that will surprise and confuse many football fans in Papua New Guinea and across Oceania, Peter Gunemba, the manager sacked from Lae City FC in the middle of the 2019–20 National Soccer League season, looks to be rekindling his side, Lae City Dwellers, ahead of the 2021 NSL season, according to reports.

Following announcements in the local PNG press about the teams registered ahead of the upcoming season, many fans were bewildered to find that ‘Lae City FC’, the supposed six-time reigning champions, were listed alongside ‘Lae City Dwellers FC’ on the list of thirteen sides vying for the ten slots in this season’s competition.

Lae City Dwellers are back with a new (old) team badge.

According to the Post Courier and The National, the Gunemba-coached side appears to be separate to the Ian Chow-owned Lae City FC (currently coached by Bob Morris), although this throws into doubt which of the two sides has won which of the six titles currently claimed by Lae City, who were previously known as Toti City and Lae City Dwellers, and whether or not this is a brand new club and, if not, when Lae City Dwellers ceased to exist, and when Lae (Toti) City was born.

Either way, the club boasts several veteran players who have shown loyalty to coach Gunemba in the past, including his son Raymond Gunemba, Mosie Milubwa, defender Valentine Nelson, who finished last season at Morobe United and international goalkeeper Matheson Nasa.

With loyalties likely to be split between Chow’s Lae City and Gunemba’s Dwellers, could this be the opportunity for Hekari United to return to the top of Papua New Guinean football? The 2021 season isn’t far around the corner, so we’ll find out soon enough!

League Runners-Up Vitiaz United Will NOT Take Part in 2021 PNG NSL

2019–20 Papua New Guinea National Soccer League Runners-Up Vitiaz United have confirmed they will not be taking part in the upcoming 2021 competition, mainly due to financial reasons.

Mathew David (18) celebrates scoring in last year’s PNG NSL for Vitiaz United. Photo: PNGFA

The club confirmed via their Facebook page that they would not be taking part in the country’s flagship national competition, but would still be competing at regional level in the Port Moresby area of the country.

The club’s statement in full is as follows:

Dear All,

We would like to formally inform you all that we were not able to submit an EoI for the 2021 season of the NSL. There were a number of factors but the main reason being financial.

It generally cost on average over K500,000 (from our experience) per season. We have to house, feed, train, equip and provide allowances for the boys and this is not including the K90,000 EoI and registration fees. We struggled financially in our first season but it was worth it. We made an impact and went all the way to the grand final. It is all about progressing football with bringing in young and new players into the competition and trying different tactics and techniques so we can develop football.

We will continue playing in our regular competition with the Port Moresby Soccer Association at Bisini. Some of our regular players from Lae will be flown across to support our first season in the Premier Division and look forward to the start of the games sometime in July.

We want to thank everyone that supported us during the NSL season. We are taking a breather this time around but will come back again.

Good luck to all the NSL participants in this season of the NSL and may the best and fairest win.

The statement, from club president Matthew Strach, suggests that the side will return again to national competition, and after such an impressive debut season in the competition, we at Oceania Football Center hope they’ll make this return sooner rather than later.

The club finished the regular season third behind perennial challengers Lae City FC and Hekari United, but were able to triumph over Hekari in the playoffs before losing to Lae City in the Grand Final of last year’s competition.

Henderson Eels clinch national title in Solomon Islands

Henderson Eels, Telekom S-League champions – TSL Media

Henderson Eels clinched Telekom S-League title with one game in advance after beating Southern United by 8-0 at Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara, the capital of Solomon Islands.

Joses Nawo and Raphael Lea’i led their side with three goals each while Augustine Waita scored the other two goals. With this result, Eels have broken Solomon Warriors’ streak to clinch the national title for the first time ever.

The final round of 2020-21 Telekom S-League season will be contested this weekend to decide the top scorer of the tournament. Joses Nawo is leading the ladder with 35 goals while Raphael Lea’i comes next with 33 goals scored. You can check more information about the tournament by clicking here.