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Rugby league's power for change in PNG

Wed, Nov 15, 2017 - 12:45PM
By ‌Margie McDonald‌‌, ‌NRL.com

No one needs to tell Papua New Guinea captain Cathy Neap about the power of the Women's Rugby League World Cup. 

And it's not about growing the game, as league is already PNG's national past-time. But the fact women are now playing at the highest level has helped the country's female population overcome one of the nation's worst-kept secrets: an alarmingly high rate of domestic violence.

Neap plays in the back row for the Orchids and is proud to captain PNG at their first World Cup appearance. She says she owes rugby league another debt of gratitude.

"Definitely this game is working for us, for the women. We are gaining respect from the men in my country," Neap told NRL.com.

"Just last weekend before the Kumuls' last Test at home against the USA, we were presented to the crowd. We walked out onto the field and waved to the people in the stands.

"The feeling from the crowd was unbelievable. They actually gave us great respect. Normally women would not get that respect from the crowd. That wouldn't have happened a year or two ago.

"That's a massive change, a massive shift in the mindset of our men." 

It had to improve as some estimates have as many as 70 per cent of PNG women experiencing physical or sexual assault in their lifetime. 

One Australian Federal Police officer, Detective Seargent Michelle Harris who was on loan to PNG local police to help deal with the issue, told ABC News in February 2015 she had been shocked at the level of domestic violence in the country. "I'd describe the level of violence here as pandemic, equalling something in a war zone," she said.

Neap has witnessed the supportive messages coming from within league. Two local women's teams played a curtain-raiser to the September 2015 Prime Minister's XVII match between Australia and PNG in Port Moresby. The Australian players had the words "Strong Men Respect Women" printed on their training kit and casual shirts.

"I've seen the power of rugby league for women and how we can gain respect from the men in our country," Neap said.

"Rugby league has given me so many opportunities in life. I wouldn't be able to come out here and travel like this, or stand up for myself back home."

Now it is time for the Orchids to lay a few foundations of their own. They lost 42-4 to the Jillaroos two months ago in the curtain-raiser to this year's PM's XIII game.

The Orchids take on England on Thursday in their opening World Cup match, followed by Canada on Sunday, and then Australia next Wednesday. All games are at Cronulla's home ground, Southern Cross Group Stadium.

Neap expects a better showing from her team this time around.

"Our strength is that we are working wonderfully together," she said. "The backs are just as strong as the forwards – there is no difference. Most of the girls have been playing in the local championship for a few years so we know each other well."

But the rousing performance of the Kumuls, winning all three men's World Cup group games, has raised the stakes.

"The men's success has put big pressure on us girls," Neap said. "The country expects the same thing from us. We want to perform as good as the men. We'll see."

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