PNG's secret weapon to bring down Panthers
He took all he learned in three years at the Panthers back to his Papua New Guinean homeland and now towering prop Wellington Albert is promising to use it against Penrith in Sunday's Intrust Super Championship.
Albert and his younger brother Stanton both played under-20s for the Panthers and are among seven PNG Hunters players who represented the Kumuls against the Cook Islands in Campbelltown earlier this year, a game in which PNG triumphed 32-22.
But for many of the Hunters players who were victorious in last Sunday's Intrust Super Cup Grand Final at Suncorp Stadium, this weekend will represent their first trip to Sydney and NRL Grand Final Day – the grandest stage they will ever play on.
Having defeated Wyong in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW Grand Final and with a host of players with NRL experience the Panthers will start heavy favourites against a PNG team that will no doubt have the majority of the crowd support, but Albert has promised to continue the education of his Hunters teammates in NRL professionalism.
"Me and my brother Stanton have been with the Panthers, me three years and him two years, and we learned a lot from the NRL club and their training and training with the NRL guys, the superstars there," Albert told NRL.com.
"To bring that back is a plus to my country and to the Hunters and this year has been a bonus for me and my brother and the team.
"They have asked a lot of us with the experience we have in the Hunters team so I am really thankful to the Penrith Panthers club for taking me down there. I learned a lot as a footy player in and out of the field."
Four years ago as the Hunters prepared to make their entry into the Intrust Super Cup, Albert was taking part in the inaugural squad's pre-season training until he was identified by the Panthers and invited to move to Sydney.
He played five games for Penrith's NYC team in 2014, while Stanton played 11 times in 2015, and said it was a privilege to now be back in Papua New Guinea and serving as a role model to kids throughout the country as a member of the champion Hunters team.
"It's good to be back home with the boys and with the club this year," Albert said.
"I was training with the Hunters for that first year and then pre-season I got picked by the Panthers.
"Every kid growing up in PNG, their dream is to play for the Hunters and when I started to play rugby and the Hunters team took part in the Queensland Cup and I was lucky enough to be part of the team.
"But I took a call-up for the Penrith side, that's why I left.
"We are heroes – when we go back home everyone stops us like they are doing here. They want to take a photo.
"Every little kid growing up, they want to be like us so in and out of the football we are role models and we know not to go out and drink and stuff like that.
"We want to keep being a role model."
As for how his teammates who are unfamiliar with the sights and sounds of Sydney will handle being in Australia's largest city, Albert has promised to show them some of his favourite haunts.
"Not many of them have been to Sydney so I will be the tour guide," Albert said.
"I will take them out to the Blue Mountains and Penrith."
This article first appeared on NRL.com