Sport: PNG's reunited National Soccer League set for kick-off

2:54 pm on 25 January 2019

A new and improved National Soccer League will kick-off in Papua New Guinea this weekend, with a record number of teams representing all regions of the country.

Twenty-seven clubs will compete across four conferences, with teams from the Highlands and the New Guinea Islands taking part for the first time.

This time last year, PNG's National Soccer League (NSL) was in disarray, with just six teams competing in the country's flagship domestic competition, compared with 12 in the rival National Premier League run by breakaway organisation, Football Federation PNG (FFPNG).

John Kapi Natto

John Kapi Natto Photo: Facebook / PNGFA

The warring factions reunited at the end of last year, following an intervention by FIFA, with FFPNG boss John Kapi Natto elected president of the PNG Football Association on a pledge to spread the game to all corners of PNG.

Kapi Natto admitted that expanding the NSL to 27 teams was ambitious.

"What we're trying to do is test the waters in the Highlands and New Guinea Islands because we're giving them the opportunity now," he said.

"Most of them have complained and said we wish we played soccer and were part of the national league.

"So when I got elected I said we are going to go inclusive with the National Soccer League so that the level is not going to be there but it will take time."

The first round of matches in the Northern and Southern Conferences get underway this weekend in Port Moresby, Lae and Madang.

Newcomers FC Bougainville face a daunting debut against the country's most successful club Hekari United, who are back after a two-year absence.

One of the Bougainville's founders, Thomas Taberia, said the autonomous region had set some lofty goals.

"We have actually prepared well for the last three years in the local competition and we have a brand of football which is quite different from what football is played in the country," Taberia said.

"We base our game on ball possession and we look at players who are very skilled and keep the ball," he said.

"I think our brand of football can change the game in Papua New Guinea."

Lae City coach Peter Gunemba.

Lae City coach Peter Gunemba. Photo: OFC via Phototek

Toti City Dwellers FC have won the past four NSL titles but despite the added competition, head coach Peter Gunemba believes his squad has was it takes to keep their run going.

"We want to be the champions of the country for some years, and some of our best players in the team are still playing like (PNG Kapuls internationals) Raymond Gunemba and Nigel (Dabinyaba)," Peter Gunemba said.

"I think we have a very good team now and also we have some new ones who joined us," he said.

"I am confident we will retain our title... The title is there for grabs for everyone. I don't underestimate anyone but we will work much, much harder."

Toti open their title defence against local rivals Morobe United, who finished runners up in the rival National Premier League in 2018.

Morobe club president Roy Kamen said everyone in the PNG football community was united and looking forward to a blockbuster season.

"It's exciting and it's challenging," Kamen said.

"We have been preparing. We missed out on the last two NSL seasons... so we are prepared and we are ready to take things as they come."

The 11 teams competing in the Highlands and New Guinea Islands Conferences begin their campaigns in two weeks time.

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