Emotions run high for Kuk in PNG return
FOR Ipswich Brothers and Australian Jillaroos star Amelia Kuk, Saturday's historic clash against the Papua New Guinea Orchids held much greater importance than what was reflected in the final scoreline.
Up against an Orchids team which only formed this year, the world number one-ranked Aussies were always expected to be too strong for their hosts at the PNG Football Stadium.
But for PNG-born Kuk, the inaugural match between the 2017 World Cup co-hosts was most significant for the message it sent to the home fans in the crowd.
"(The PNG team) were wearing 'strong men respect women' on their jerseys; a message the Orchids wanted to get across to the people of PNG about domestic violence," Kuk said.
"It was about being aware of what a healthy relationship is.
"For those girls to come out and play against the top team in the world was a big deal.
"They played their hardest, and with a lot of pride and passion.
"It was an eye-opener for the crowd, to see women taken seriously in rugby league.
"I'm so proud of the Orchids, they're paving the pathway and creating history.
"The platform they have built and standard they have set is high."
The Jillaroos centre was amazed at the reception the women received, with people queueing to get into the ground long before the players even arrived at the venue.
"We knew it would be sold out for the men's game (immediately following the women's match) but I didn't expect that kind of turnout for the women's game," Kuk said.
"When we arrived there was a line-up for people trying to get tickets. It was crazy."
Kuk previously represented PNG in Rugby Sevens, before switching to rugby league and donning the green and gold of Australia.
A number of her former teammates lined up for the Orchids at the weekend, and in front of her 'home' crowd Kuk felt a wave of emotion wash over her prior to the match.
"Standing there singing the Australian national anthem (I was fine), but then the PNG anthem went up and I got a bit teary looking out at the crowd," Kuk said.
But Kuk "knew she had a job to do", and that was to play well and impress selectors ahead of the World Cup starting November 16.
And that job was made even more difficult in the stifling heat and humidity of Port Moresby.
"Even in the warm-up girls were sweating, but as soon as we got out there the adrenaline kicked in and I managed to play the whole game," Kuk said.
"I think we played well, but there were times we didn't stick to our structure. All up, we know we can do so much better as a team but it was a good first hit-out."
Kuk was joined in the Jillaroos squad by Brothers teammates Ali Brigginshaw and Kody House, and sung their praises.
"Kody scored a try and Ali made a few breaks and set up some tries, they both played really well," Kuk said.
"It was great to play with them at rep level."
Whether or not Kuk impressed enough to secure a spot in the 24-player squad announced at the start of October, she said the competition for spots in the team only proved Australia's World Cup-winning credentials.
"We have this saying in camp, 'pressure makes diamonds'," she said.
"It's healthy competition, not just for the World Cup but for years to come and in growing women's footy."