8 Jun 2019

Sport: Further changes proposed for PNG's National Soccer League

10:54 am on 8 June 2019

Papua New Guinea's revamped National Soccer League should focus on quality, not quantity, according to the coach of the country's champion team.

Toti City FC defeated Hekari United 5-4 on penalties in the NSL grand final last weekend, after both teams failed to score during normal and extra time, to claim their fifth consecutive domestic title.

Toti City celebrate their fifth straight PNG National Soccer League title.

Toti City celebrate their fifth straight PNG National Soccer League title. Photo: Facebook/PNG Football Association

Head coach Peter Gunemba said the game see-sawed both ways but he was confident his team would come out on top.

"Always at the back of my mind I was thinking that I'm a Christian,I believe in God's miracles, so I thought it will be in the dying minutes that we are going to score or in the penalty shootout the boys will score then we can win the game," he said.

Last weekend's grand final was the first time Papua New Guinea's two biggest football clubs had played each other in three years, with Hekari United among a number of clubs that broke away from the PNG Football Association in 2017 and competed in a rival competition before the game's two warring factions reunited eight months ago.

"It was good to have Hekari back. They are a quality team. They've been away for the past two years and then they came back and I think we have some very good players from Papua New Guinea with the Hekari team and I appreciate their return to Papua New Guinea Football Association and that was good to have them back," Gunemba said.

Southern Conference winners Hekari United beat West Tribe FC 2-0 in Port Moresby.

Hekari United played their first NSL grand final since 2016 after two years playing in a rival competition. Photo: PNG Football Association

Less is More?

A record 27 teams took part in this year's expanded National Soccer League, with teams split into four regional conferences in the North, South, Highlands and New Guinea Islands.

Peter Gunemba agrees with the PNGFA's vision to expand football to the four corners of Papua New Guinea but he believes the conference system, which prevents most of top teams from playing each other, is not working.

"The quality of the football it has to be concentrated to one competition - I don't really believe in having all the conferences - it's just separating the players and we cannot get the best players to challenge each other...to have a competitive competition we need to have a lesser number of teams to compete so that we can get the best out of the competition."

He said the standard of football on show in the grand final was some of the best he's ever seen in Papua New Guinea but if players, clubs and the national team want to be competitive on the world stage they need to play and be tested against high quality opponents more often.

"For me it's all about football: I want to see the standard of football in Papua New Guinea to develop because for us here we've been struggling so many years against many of the Pacific nations and New Zealand so I want to have by this time in this 21st century we want to see Papua New Guinea players advancing and getting contracts outside of Papua New Guinea."

"In order to do that we have to have quality opponents to play against and improve our performance," Gunemba said.

Lae City coach Peter Gunemba.

Toti City coach Peter Gunemba. Photo: OFC via Phototek