Mead’s magic touch
DAVID MEAD and his Papua New Guinea rugby league team-mates have achieved rock-star status in the lead-up to the SP Brewery Pacific Cup final against the Cook Islands in Port Moresby tomorrow.
It took two days of international phone calls this week to get former Lismore schoolboy Mead on the line as his whirlwind schedule saw him whisked from training, to school visits, to hotel and back again.
PNG’s love affair with rugby league ensures the Kumuls are mobbed wherever they go.
Mead, who was born in PNG and moved to Lismore at the age of 12, is one of the stars of the team, having scored two tries in the Kumuls’ emphatic 44-14 win over Tonga last weekend.
The Gold Coast Titans flyer said fans had surrounded the team hotel and simply getting to the team bus every morning was an exercise in itself.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said of the attention.
“You have to be here to see it to believe it.
“There are fans everywhere we go, lining the streets, at the schools, outside our hotels.
“They know all the players’ names and even the young blokes in the team have that celebrity look.”
Mead grew up in the town of Mt Hagen, which is about an hour’s flight from Port Moresby.
He played a fairly basic form of rugby league with a Coke or cordial bottle substituting for a football and bamboo sticks for goal posts.
“It was definitely the number one game on the streets and everyone loved watching it on television,” he said.
Mead moved to Lismore halfway through Year 5 and completed his schooling.
Initially, he played rugby union for Lismore and then switched to league and played for Marist Brothers’ Under-18 team.
He came to the attention of Titans coach John Cartwright at a Northern Rivers trial and was offered a contract.
But he credits his World Cup campaign for the Kumuls last year as one of his biggest breaks.
“It was definitely a boost for my career,” he said.
“It helped me gain a bit of confidence as well as a bit of exposure.
“After that I got offered a contract with the Roosters and then signed with the Titans for two more years.”
The 20-year-old broke into the Titans’ first-grade squad mid-season and went on to score eight tries in 14 games.
Although disappointed to be bundled out of the finals race by the Broncos and Parramatta in straight sets, Mead said the experience of playing in the Pacific Cup was helping him get over it.
“That’s all forgotten now and I’m looking forward to playing this weekend,” he said.
And in a sign of things to come for the Titans, Mead has been playing fullback instead of wing, and he is enjoying his new-found freedom.
“You get a lot more of a chance to run and you get your hands on the ball a lot more, which is good,” he said.
“I’d like to play there for the Titans but you have some pretty good players in that position including Preston Campbell.”
The winners of the SP Brewery Pacific Cup final tomorrow will join league heavyweights Australia, New Zealand and England in the Four Nations tournament next year.