In unexpected news earlier today, it was revealed that brothers Alwin and Felix Komolong had signed for Lae City FC to strengthen the side ahead of the remainder of the Papua New Guinea National Soccer League season.
However, the pair will be unable to play for the club for the OFC Champions League, because they were signed and registered too late to meet the deadline.
Lae City have one more domestic game later this weekend, before a two-break break which will allow them to travel to Vanuatu to take part in Group B alongside hosts Malampa Revivors, Solomon Island league runners-up Henderson Eels and Fijian runners-up Lautoka in one of the most evenly matched groups in the competition.
However, despite sitting second in the league domestically, cracks have started to show in the armour of the side, having lost for the first time two weeks ago against newcomers Vitiaz United before a last-gasp goal from Jacob Sabua spared their blushes against FC Bougainville last weekend. The club have conceded six goals in six matches, the same as third-placed Vitiaz and fourth-placed Tusbab Stallions, and double that of league leaders Hekari United.
Coach Peter Gunemba has clearly recognised the side’s strengths and weaknesses: up front, Lae are blessed with a myriad of talented strikers who know how to find the net: captain Raymond Gunemba has four goals so far this season and 11 goals in 21 international appearance. Teammate Nigel Dabinyaba, who has had a quiet season so far, also has a proven record internationally, with 8 goals from 19 senior caps. The likes of Emmanuel Simon, Obert Bika and Alu Awi provide plenty of back-up for the two main men, while Ecuadorian import Gustine Icaza adds exotic flair to the attack.
However, at the back, while on paper the side are better than most, they do have room for improvement: Philip Steven is an accomplished versatile defender and is probably one of the first names on the teamsheet, but his central defensive partner Mosie Milubwa is 36 years old, while right-back Valentine Nelson is 33. Both were fine defenders in their day, but are considered aging: Nelson has ten senior caps for PNG, but his last one was in 2016.
That’s why the signings of the Komolong brothers are a huge deal for the current league champions. Both men have experience outside of PNG, having played college soccer in the United States, while Alwin plied his trade at regional level in Germany for Stuttgarter Kickers and then for Fortuna Köln in the 3. Bundesliga, the lowest level of national football in the country, last season.
Alwin, 26, and Felix, 23, bring youthful energy and a wealth of experience to the club’s backline, and their chemistry and solidity at the back should tighten up their leaky defence and give the champions, who have at times looked easily second-best behind Hekari United so far this season, reason to believe that they have a superb chance at a sixth successive title.
It’s a shame that they won’t be able to travel with the side to Vanuatu for the Champions League, but the signings will definitely strike fear into the hearts of Hekari United fans, who must be looking nervously over their shoulders.