Kavieng in New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea has a special place in the hearts of the Bulldogs as evidenced by their seventh visit to the region in October.
Club legends Frank Pritchard, Corey Hughes, Reni Maitua and Corey Payne, along with Top 30 player Brandon Wakeham, spent a week in the far-flung island visiting schools and undertaking remedial work at a health centre. For Pritchard, Payne and Wakeham it was their first visit to the region, whilst Hughes made his fifth trip and Maitua his second.
The crew ventured down the Boluminski Highway and visited schools at Karu and Namatanai. The schools are a 3-hour drive from the main town of Kavieng, so the students were excited to see rugby league stars and were quickly out throwing footballs and learning the finer details of the game.
Whilst most of the boys had a grasp of the basic skills it was the girls who embraced the game and weren't afraid to mix it with the boys in the game of touch that closed off each clinic. Initially shy, the young students soon found their voices and cheerful spirit after a bit of coaxing by Frank 'King of the Kids' Pritchard who relished the opportunity to re-live his NRL days.
The Health Centre at Lemakot has been a favourite stop for the Bulldogs in previous years and the players were put to good use with the tidying up of two hospital wards which needed re-painting. The high temperature and humidity of the tropics soon had everyone dripping in perspiration, but the task was completed without complaint.
The Nehemiah Christian Academy, decked out in blue and white colours, also had it's annual visit from the Bulldogs. The children welcomed the crew with prayers and enthusiastically joined the players in a game of pass the ball, with 'penalties' of push ups dished out to the runners up. The school is located on a coastline meaning the boys had the luxury of mud crabs, fresh fruit and steamed fish for lunch.
Another project that was completed by the Bulldogs in 2017 was re-visited this year. The Enuk Island Community School's new building was now in use, having had a new roof and windows built in previous years. With basic school furniture and resources, the students were treated to gifts of caps, Bulldog wristbands and school books, as well as the obligatory game of touch which was conducted before departing for Lissenung Island.
Frank Pritchard summed up the whole trip:
"We got involved with welfare and education through footy clinics at a number of schools. The smiles on the kid's faces when we presented them with footy gear and merchandise was priceless. We broke down the barriers through laughter and games, though not many kids spoke English. To visit the hospital we painted was an eye opener. It's great work from the Bulldogs to consistently keep this program running."
This year's visit not would have been possible without the financial support of Apprenticeship Careers Australia, Campsie RSL and One Solutions Group and the assistance of Nusa Island Retreat, Air Niugini and Kavieng Hotel.