International Heroes: Stanley Gene
In a country where rugby league is treated like a religion, Stanley Gene is surely one of the game’s high priests.
Gene (pronounced “Gennay”) is a legendary figure in his homeland of Papua New Guinea, following a representative career that spanned a decade and a half, as well as a lengthy and successful stint at the highest levels of the game in Britain.
Gene was a true utility player, able to slot into any position on the field – although he predominantly found himself at five-eight during his playing career.
Gene possessed all of the attributes for which his countrymen are renowned. Not only was he a rugged defender, but he could step off either foot, had a good turn of pace and possessed a creative kicking game.
He made his test debut for PNG off the bench against France in 1994, slotting a field goal as the Kumuls recorded a 29-22 victory.
The following year he was part of PNG’s World Cup Squad, his impressive performances attracting the attention of Hull Kingston Rovers, where he debuted in 1998.
After a couple of seasons at Hull KR he played stints at Hull FC, Huddersfield Giants and the Bradford Bulls. He returned to Hull KR for a further three seasons, before retiring in 2009.
But while forging a career in England Gene remained a key part of PNG’s national side – and was able to share the benefit of that experience with his countrymen.
Playing at a high level of rugby (league) in England helps me and my countrymen when I go back to play for the national side
In total, Gene played 25 matches for the Kumuls, including their World Cup campaigns in 2000 and 2008. He scored nine tries in his national colours and captained the side on a number of occasions.
In a gesture that reflected the respect in which he was held among the national side, he was chaired from the field by his team-mates following PNG’s exit from the 2008 World Cup tournament, having announced his intention to retire from rep football.
Gene’s success is a shining example to the people of Papua New Guinea what can be achieved from the most humble beginnings. Indeed, it is not tries or test appearances that he cited as his career highlight.
My great moment was just coming over (to England) and getting used to life here. The house with power, a septic toilet in the house, a cooker and fridge and TV in the house. I’d never had that sort of stuff in my life. I’d lived up in the mountains where it’s a pit toilet and you live in a hut.
Even beyond his playing career Gene continues to inspire. He coached the Kumuls in 2010 and 2013 and in 2014 was coach of English club side Gateshead Thunder.
Gene is also using the fruits of his rugby league success and his profile to help the disadvantaged in PNG. He has established a foundation in his name that aims to provide educational resources – including books, desks, old computers and blackboards – to remote communities where such facilities are a rarely seen luxury.