Regan Grace has heard all the “scary” stories about playing in Papua New Guinea and he cannot wait to discover the truth for himself.
The St Helens winger is excited at the prospect of appearing in Wales’ World Cup opener against the Kumuls in Port Moresby, where rugby league is the national sport.
It is said that locals traditionally walk for days, armed with spears, to get to matches, often having to climb trees to find a vantage point, and become so excitable that police have been forced to use tear gas to break up pitch invasions. Wales head coach John Kear has heard the tales, too, and says the squad are taking an extra set of jerseys in case the fans get carried away after the match.
“People have told me loads of stories trying to scare me,” Grace said. “I’d rather go and find out what it’s like for myself but lot of them are saying the same things so it can’t be too far from the truth.
“Not many people get to go to these corners of the world and I’m getting to do it for my job.”
Grace, 20, who comes from Port Talbot, has experienced a sudden and meteoric rise through the ranks since discovering rugby league by chance through an advertising poster when he was 13.
He made his Wales debut as a teenager two years ago after catching the eye playing for St Helens’ academy and this season scored a memorable try on his Super League debut in the Good Friday derby at Wigan.
Grace kept his place, ahead of regular left winger Adam Swift, and after scoring 11 tries in 24 successive appearances was short-listed for Super League’s young player of the year and became an automatic pick in Kear’s 24-strong World Cup squad.
“I’ve proper loved this season,” said Grace, whose sister Lateysha is a former Big Brother star. “I didn’t expect to be up there but I’m just loving it. Playing at the top level, it’s just mad.”
Papua New Guinea are expected to fill the newly re-developed 25,000-capacity national stadium for all three of their group games and will be favourites to reach the quarter-finals.