Papua New Guinea Orchids coach Ben Jeffries believes young playmakers Lila Malabag and Elizabeth Kapa could be the nation’s long term halves pairing after naming them in a 23-player squad for the World Cup.
Malabag debuted against England in 2019 while Kapa has emerged from the PNG schoolgirls’ competition and Jeffries said they would vie with veteran Shirley Joe for the playmaking roles at the upcoming World Cup in England.
Joe is just one of four survivors from the 2017 World Cup, along with Carol Humeu, Gloria Kaupa and Vero Waula, in a squad which includes 11 debutants.
St George Illawarra prop Elsie Albert is one of four players with NRLW experience, including former Dragons team-mate Shellie Long, ex-Eels hooker Therese Aiton and former Broncos prop Jessikah Reeves, who has previously represented Queensland Under 18s.
Jeffries said he was looking to nurture talent that can represent the Orchids for years to come and two-thirds of the squad, which has an average age of 25, is based in PNG across three regions – Southern, Highlands and Northern.
“It’s exciting that we have several debutants combined with some experienced Orchids players, including a handful that return from RLWC2017,” Jeffries said. “Those returning players will be critical for the younger players within the group.
“The reality is that this could be the last opportunity for some players to represent the Orchids, so the expectation of these players is to assist in nurturing the younger players whilst competing for their positions from game to game.”
“All Australia-based players have been monitored through the Queensland and New South Wales women’s competitions, and it is pivotal to recognise players like Elsie Albert, Shellie Long, Jessikah Reeves and Therese Aiton will assist in creating high standards within the Orchids team.”
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— PNG Orchids (@PNGOrchids) August 13, 2022
“In terms of new talent, we have two exciting young halves in Lila Malabag, who debuted against England in 2019 and Elizabeth Kapa, who came straight out of the schoolgirls’ competition.
“They could potentially be long-term halves for the Orchids and will work with the evergreen Shirley Joe, who was the try-scoring hero in the 2019 victory over England.
“In addition, dual-code international Joanne Lagona has been a standout player throughout this process and has played in every major PNG based competition and trial leading up to this selection.”
Shae-Yvonne DE LA CRUZ
*Sareka Mooka’s selection is subject to final confirmation of eligibility.