PNG trip about more than just footy
This weekend's game against Papua New Guinea looms as a genuine World Cup selection trial for a number of Kangaroos hopefuls, but Saturday's clash in Port Moresby is about more than just rugby league for the Prime Minister's XIII and the people of the footy-mad nation.
The PM's XIII will carry the message 'Strong Men Respect Women' on their jerseys, with coach Mal Meninga desperate to tackle the domestic violence issue head on in a country where gender inequality and violence have reached worrying levels.
The Harvey Norman Jillaroos will set the tone with their first match in PNG against the women's national side and they'll be joined by the men as they aim to raise awareness about an issue that Australian actress Nicole Kidman described as an "insidious disease" at the Emmy Awards earlier in the week.
"We're not only going up there to play rugby league; we're up there as great ambassadors for the game of rugby league," Meninga said.
"There are some really important social messages that come out of a trip like this around no violence to women. That's been a really critical message for us in recent years so we're going up to promote that.
"The players are hero-worshipped up there, so every word they say, people hang on to. It's not only from a rugby league perspective, but rugby league has been an important vehicle for social change up there, which is probably even a greater sense of accomplishment for the team."
PM's XIII skipper Aaron Woods hopes the message hits home and is confident the PNG community will listen to their sporting idols.
"Every time I've been up there we've supported something, and the violence against women campaign is massive," he said.
"It's a well-known fact that there's a lot of violence up in Papua New Guinea so any little message that we can spread – as I said, we do a few clinics up there – so it's not just about the footy; it's about the initiative that we're there for.
"I think it's something good that we are able to try to turn a few heads. Because of our presence there, people tend to listen to us. The more we can get on board and do things like this, it's not just good for rugby league, but for the country of the PNG."
This will be Woods's fourth trip to Papua New Guinea in the green and gold jersey, and while they still get his name wrong every now and then, he encouraged all players to visit the region for what can only be described as an eye-opening experience.
"They call me 'Wood' though; they always forget the 's'," he laughed.
"I tell a lot of the blokes that I played footy with at the Tigers, before you retire, you've got to go and play over there. It's one of those things where you don't really know how much they love it until you go over there.
"We're like gods. We'll drive past them in cars at like 80 km/h and they'll pick you out and go 'Klemmer' (Bulldogs lock David Klemmer) or 'Jakey' (Jake Trbojevic). They can pick you out from a mile away.
"You go to Bali and you see everyone wearing Bintang singlets, but if you go to PNG, everyone's wearing footy jerseys. When we do the footy clinics, they all know your name. Every person knows who you are so it's pretty much like a dream come true."