The fourth round of the Papua New Guinea National Soccer League takes place this Saturday, with Hekari United, Lae City and Vitiaz United leading the way on nine points each. However, the race for the Golden Boot also has some interesting names leading the way, and below we’ve taken a deeper look into the players in red-hot goalscoring form in the PNG domestic league so far.
Current Club: FC Bougainville
D.O.B.: 3/1/2000 (age 20)
Senior Caps: 1
At just 20 years old, Jonathan Allen is the youngest of the five players currently on three goals for the season, but already he looks to be a hot prospect for the national team, and could fire Bougainville to playoff qualification should he maintain his current form. Allen has scored in each of the three game weeks so far, helping his side to a 3-2 opening day victory against Gulf Komara, before scoring the consolation goals in the 2-1 defeats to Hekari United and Tusbab Stallions.
Allen first came to prominence in early 2017 as part of the national U-17 side that took part in the 2017 OFC U-17 Championship, under head coach Harrison Kamake. Allen started all three of PNG’s group games in the competition, scoring a vital equaliser against Tahiti in their final group game, before Emmanuel Simongi hit the winner, which put the side through to the semi-finals. Despite losing 3-2 to New Zealand in the semis, it was a historic performance for the youth side, becoming the first U-17 side in the nation’s history to reach the semi-finals of that particular competition.
Following the competition, Allen represented Besta PNG United in three editions of the National Soccer League: 2017, 2018 and 2019, and was an integral part of the side which came second in 2018, losing in the Grand Final to Toti City. Allen also made the step up to U-20 level internationally, earning two caps at the OFC U-19 Championship in 2018, scoring once against Tonga, and at just 19 years of age, he was called up for the senior squad for the 2019 Pacific Games, coming on as a substitute for his first senior cap in the 8-0 win against Tonga.
With Besta PNG withdrawing from this season’s competition, Allen was forced to search for opportunities elsewhere, and has found a home at FC Bougainville. Thus far, it seems to be a match made in heaven, with three goals from three consecutive appearances. Can this bright young starlet help lead Bougainville to victory? And what sort of future will he have as an international footballer? Whatever happens this season, this young man has bags of potential just waiting to be unleashed.
Current Club: Vitiaz United
D.O.B. 15/3/1989 (age 30)
Senior Caps: 0
At the opposite end of the spectrum is a 30-year-old journeyman who has never quite made the breakthrough into the national side despite a promising youth career. Eliud Fugre also has three goals in three games for brand new side Vitiaz United, but most of his career has been defined by his time at Morobe United.
With records sketchy pre-2009, the first season that we find reports of Fugre playing at NSL level is the 2009/10 season, where, aged 20, he was already a key man for Morobe United, then named Gigira Laitepo Morobe. That season, Fugre helped the side to the Grand Final, where they lost 5-0 to Hekari United – but that remains the only season Morobe United have finished as runners-up in the National Soccer League. Another season in Morobe followed before a move to Eastern Stars emerged for the 2011/12 season, which allowed Fugre to pick up his second league runners-up medal.
In March 2012, Fugre was called up to the Papua New Guinea U-23 side for the Men’s Olympic Qualifying competition, and it was at this time that the midfielder-cum-striker picked up what are still his only international appearances. Fugre played in all four of the nation’s group games, with the side losing three times and Fugre unable to get himself on the scoresheet in any of the games.
For three of the next four seasons, Fugre played with Morobe United, with the exception of the 2015 season, which saw him briefly turn out for Admiralty FC. It was in 2015 that Fugre earned his first ever call-up to the senior national side for a friendly against the Phillipines, but the striker was left on the bench.
After the league split in 2017, Fugre played for Jessa Nawaeb FC in the breakaway National Premier League, before returning to Morobe last season. This year, he was poached by new club Vitiaz United, and thus far, Fugre’s goals have been crucial to the success of the new side, with Vitiaz having won three out of three so far. Is it too late for Fugre to earn a late international cap? Could a continuation of this form see him in contention for the OFC Nations Cup this summer? Only time will tell.
Current Club: Tusbab Stallions
D.O.B.: 17/7/1999 (age 20)
Senior Caps: 2
Another star of the future, Stahl Gubag has been working his way up through the ranks both domestically and internationally since 2015, which, if you take a closer look, is mightily impressive.
In January 2015, Gubag was just 15 years old, yet he started all of the five games that the U-17 national team played in the 2015 OFC U-17 Championship, even scoring, once, in a 5-0 win over Samoa. What is perhaps even more impressive was his key role in the U-20 side for the 2016 OFC U-20 Championship – when he had just turned 17. Following this impressive performance, Gubag was called up for the senior international side in November 2016 for the friendly against Malaysia, coming on as a substitute for his first senior cap, still aged just 17. Since then, Gubag has picked up a further three U-20 caps and one more senior cap, and one can’t help but think there is much, much more to come.
Gubag even already has experience in the OFC Champions League: he joined Madang FC ahead of the 2017 season, which saw him score his first ever continental goal in a 4-3 victory over Samoan side Lupe Ole Soaga. Madang finished runners-up in the National Soccer League that season, allowing them to qualify again for the OFC Champions League, with Gubag playing in all three of the club’s group stage defeats.
After Madang’s withdrawal from the NSL ahead of the 2019 season, Gubag moved to another local club, Tusbab Stallions. The 2019 was a quiet one for both player and club, but this year, the Stallions look like a young side with plenty of flair and passion. Gubag scored a brace last weekend against FC Bougainville to take his goal tally to three for the season, but he’s not an out-and-out striker, so we may well see him play a supporting role for the likes of Papalau Awele, who already has two goals, in the coming weeks. Make no mistake though: this kid has oodles of potential.
Current Club: Hekari United
D.O.B.: 15/6/1993 (age 26)
Senior Caps: 6 (4 goals)
Aged 26, you would imagine that Kolu Kepo has had a decently long career at the top level of football, especially given he has more caps than anyone else on this list. In reality, though, Kepo didn’t make the breakthrough to the top level of domestic football until 2016 – when he was 22.
There are vague press mentions of Kepo pre-2016: in a local tournament in Kalo village in 2012, Kepo scored a goal for Kwalito in the third-place playoff, which helped them to a 2-0 victory. The year after that, he was named in the National Capital District squad for the regional qualifiers of the Besta FA Cup, alongside now-teammate Koriak Upaiga.
However, it wasn’t until 2016 that Kepo was finally scouted by a big club: Hekari United hosted the Hekari Central Cup tournament for the Hekari region (in Central Province) in May 2016, with Kepo picking up the Most Valuable Player award in the week-long tournament while playing for Kalo. Thereafter, Kepo, alongside his brother Ati, was selected as one of the 22 players invited to trial with Hekari United.
Kepo’s career has skyrocketed since that key moment in May 2016. By November 2016, he had already made his senior international debut as a substitute in a friendly against Malaysia, and he went on to score four goals in five games at the 2019 Pacific Games last summer. Domestically, he has been with Hekari United since they scouted him, and was a member of side during the National Premier League years in 2017 and 2018, before playing his first ever National Soccer League season last year.
Kepo will be 27 in June, so his career is at its peak, despite having only completed four full seasons at the highest level of football in the country. Can the late bloomer have a season to remember, and help Hekari finally wrestle back the league title?
Current Club: Vitiaz United
D.O.B.: 18/3/1989 (age 30)
Senior Caps: 0
Of the five men on this list, Nirik is easily the least recognised in terms of career success. A brief search back through the media archives shows that Nirik was part of a preliminary U-23 squad back in 2012, and played for University in Port Moresby regional competition in 2013, but there’s not much else.
He has zero youth caps, zero senior caps and is already 30. But this year, he has come to prominence.
He spent the 2019 season with Morobe United, but was one of several players poached by new side Vitiaz United ahead of the new season, and he link-up play with teammate Eliud Fugre has led to the pair scoring 6 of Vitiaz’ seven goals this season, with the seventh coming from an own goal. It’s clear that the pair are in red-hot form, and the continuation of that form will be vital to the new franchise’s success this season. Is it too late for Nirik to earn a call-up for the OFC Nations Cup later this year? And can he continue his current superb form?