Papua New Guinea Kumuls will miss the services of its two key players in the Pacific Championship clash against the Fiji Bati in Port Moresby on Sunday.
Melbourne Storm centre Justin Olam and Warrington-bound centre Rodrick Tai have been ruled out of Papua New Guinea’s Pacific Championships campaign due to an on-going knee issue.
Olam was a notable absentee when the Kumuls returned after a week off to prepare for Sunday’s Test with PNG coach Justin Holbrook confirming that Olam would take no part in the tournament.
“The reason I originally named him in the 21 [man squad] was because we knew he wouldn’t be right for the first game,” Holbrook told NRL.com.
“We had a week off so that gave us two more weeks to see how his knee would recover, but he’s still unable to run on it yet.”
“I rang him after Cook Islands game to see where he was at and he said, ‘look, I just haven’t got the clearance from the physios’, which is understandable.”
“He had the two extra weeks to try and recover but it wasn’t enough. He still needs a couple more weeks.”
Tai picked up a knee injury against Cook Islands while Featherstone’s McKenzie Yei has been training on his own since arriving from England with a knee problem.
Benji Kot is the new face in the backline, coming in at centre for Tai while livewire hooker Edwin Ipape returns from suspension to start, which means Judah Rimbu moves back to the interchange.
Rhyse Martin starts in the second row ahead of Titans enforcer Jacob Alick, who is instead on a new-look bench that includes Wellington Albert and Keven Appo.
There is no room at this stage for Liam Horne or Nixon Putt, who were both part of the 46-10 win over the Cook Islands in week one.
PNG will take on the Fiji Bati at 5pm.
PNG: Alex Johnston, Robert Derby, Zac Laybutt, Benji Kot, Nene Macdonald, Kyle Laybutt, Lachlan Lam, Epel Kapinias, Edwin Ipape, Valentine Richard, Rhyse Martin, Dan Russell, Jack De Belin.
Reserves: Judah Rimbu, Wellington Albert, Keven Appo, Jacob Alick, Liam Horne, Nixon Putt, Junior Rop, MacKenzie Yei.