WAN Papua Warriors were supposed to be the first sporting team from the marginalised Asia-Pacific state of West Papua to cross the equator.
In the end, their fundraising efforts only managed to send four players to the London Nines last Saturday – but they won it anyway!
By combining with European Nines specialists, the similarly-named Wests Warriors, the four New Guineans lifted silverware in scorching conditions, beating Spartans 12-4 in the final at East London Rugby Club.
The sole purpose of the WAN Papua Warriors is to draw attention to the plight of people in Indonesian-owned West Papua and the region’s bid for independence.
It was the conclusion of a successful event for promoter Graham Oliphant, with Super League side Castleford Tigers winning the women’s comp and charity side MoBros taking out the men’s social title.
“Unfortunately we weren’t able to bring as many players as we wanted,” said 29-year-old Tala Kami, the captain of the WAN Papua Warriors, told rugbyleaguenines.com.
“We were hoping to make that up with some players here but that fell through too.”
A friendship between West Papua activist Ash Brennan and Wests Warriors player and official Brendan Smith (they work together in sports TV production) led to this unlikely – but definitely not unholy – alliance.
Kami told Radio New Zealand: “Usually we’re in charge of everything so we run our gameplan and we pick and choose how we’re going to play the game so for the first time we had to kind of adapt to their gameplan.
“But there was no problem, they were all rugby league players know how to play the game so that was the only real challenge but apart from that they just welcomed us straight into their family and it was like playing with any one of the boys from home.”
Previous wins in Budapest and Rotterdam make Wests Warriors the kings of European Nines. Castleford beat charity side Mosis 16-4 in the women’s final.
Oliphant hopes to hold the event again next year and to expand it to other European capitals.