The National Rugby League is preparing to honour the 75th anniversary of the Second World War battle that saved Australia by naming the eighth round of this season’s premiership, the Kokoda Round.
In 1942 the Japanese army’s invasion of Papua New Guinea was halted on the Kokoda Track by a force of Australian soldiers from the AIF’s battle-hardened 7th Division and ill-trained conscripts from the 39th Militia Battalion, who fought like demons.
The Diggers’ heroics in the bitter battle remains a source of immense national pride, and the NRL’s plan to commemorate their courage will include some teams wearing especially designed Kokoda jumpers.
Rugby league has at least one direct link to the battle, Clem Kennedy – a halfback who played for South Sydney before the war, and represented Australia in one Test in 1946 - fought there.
However, the first sporting event to commemorate the 75th anniversary will be a boxing tournament between Papua New Guinea’s national squad and some of the best talent in NSW on Friday, March 10 at Randwick’s Inglis Stables.
The tournament will also honour the Papuan New Guinean porters and stretcher-bearers – immortalised in history as the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels – who died while supporting the Australian troops.
One fighter who is expected to put on a show is hard-punching Rio Olympian, Thadius Katua, the pride of the PNG fight game.
According to the tournament’s organiser Peter Morrison, a former NSW welterweight champion who is also a trek leader for Adventure Kokoda, each punch thrown on the night will go a long way to helping Aussie servicemen who are struggling as a result of their time in Iraq or Afghanistan, and they’ll also assist the descendants of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.
“One hundred percent of the funds raised on the night will be split between Soldier On – who helps servicemen in trouble – and Network Kokoda, who help people who live along the track with sustainable projects,” said Morrison.
“It’s a shame people in Australia don’t really appreciate the bond that existed between the Diggers and Papua New Guineans 75 years ago . . . hopefully this boxing tournament will be an important step in rekindling that spirit.”
The promotion has been named ‘Second to None’, the motto of the famed 2/2nd Battalion, AIF who served at Kokoda in 1942.
However, all the heroes won’t be wearing boxing gloves on the night.
A Digger who fought at Kokoda will be joined on the night by Victoria Cross winner Mark Donaldson while Soldier On ambassador Damien Thomlinson, the commando who lost both his legs in Afghanistan in a land mine explosion will also be in attendance.
For further information phone Peter Morrison on 0408 145 029
- Daniel Lane, exclusively for Sportsta.