The Mighty 80s Paga Panthers

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Before rugby league legends Marcus Bai and Michael Marum donned the famous blue jumper for Paga Panthers, there existed a line up of stars that rocked the famous Lloyd Robson Oval.


It was in the early 80’s and each club from Paga Panthers to Tarangau and even a team called Air Niugini were flooded with stars.  Do you remember the second rower nicknamed “Spaceman” – stocky highlander whose shoulder pads were large enough to reach his ears making him look like an astronaut ready to rocket up?  Yep, those were the times.


What made Paga Panthers special was the blend of Sepik, Buka, Highlanders and most notably Tolai in the team and as diverse their players, the blue machine operated rather smoothly. It was a time when the famous Painim Wok Band ruled the music scene and the airwaves.


Paga had their very own radio personality in Terry Longbut – a crowd favorite and equally popular behind the mic on the airwaves.


A few of the Paga “A” graders were bankers and during that time, the banking association held Friday night football at the PRL.  The Papua New Guinea Banking Corporation, more commonly known as PNGBC, were stacked with stars.


Two of their most popular players who eventually became Kumuls were center David Noifa and Alfred Kabavas.  Kabavas was a classy half-back who had the ability to control the tempo of the game through his change of pace and of course his kicking.


Noifa on the other hand was an imposing center and not your typical stocky framed short in height Highlander. He was rock solid in defence and a damaging and fierce ball runner.  One of Noifa’s finest achievements was being named in the Rest of the world team alongside the likes of Wally Lewis and Mark Meninga.


David Noifa


Noifa’s work mate, the diminutive Kabavas called the shots at 6 combining beautifully with a rather rugged looking Timo Rei at 7.


Rei, following Kabavas from Hanuabada Hawks to Paga, was a handful for the opposition.  For a 7 his size, the man from Elevala was a brave defender often jumping out of his skin to stop anything galloping towards him.  Rei was a “bootlace” tackler in defence and instrumental in co-ordinating the onslaught of Paga’s damaging forward pack which included the likes of Robert Jakis, Brian Singut, Longbut and inspirational front-man, the legendary Bernard Waketsi.


Jakis was the monster of the pack.  A big man with his jersey untucked, he was often a handful to the opposition defenders.  Singut was perhaps a fraction smaller in body size compared to the towering Jakis but an equally aggressive forward.


Waketsi and Longbut packed the scrum in the back with the former making it all the way to the Kumuls.  Waketsi played with the same aggression with a smart football brain so it came as a natural thought that he would eventually swap the sky-blue jersey with the prestigious Red, Black and Gold jumper.


Longbut on the other hand did not make it to the Kumuls but as a young raging forward, he was always a crowd favorite. It was a pity Longbut never made it to the Kumuls but this is also testament to the caliber of players he had around him.


This article was written last year and had not been published until hearing of the passing of David Noifa – one of PNG’s finest rugby league players who served the Kumuls with distinction and on retirement still contributed to PNG Rugby league development in various administrative capacities.


Rest In Peace David Noifa.


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