PNG calls on Jets try-scoring sensation
THIS is one birthday Richard Pandia won't forget any time soon.
Turning 23 on Thursday, the Ipswich Jets try-scoring machine got an unexpected call amongst all the well wishes.
His blistering start to the Intrust Super Cup season with the Jets hadn't gone unnoticed by his country-men back in Papua New Guinea.
In a few minutes, the dream of playing for his country became reality.
Pandia was told he had made the PNG Kumuls 18-man squad playing the Cook Island Kukis this weekend.
"I was hoping to get picked but I didn't think about it too much,” Pandia admitted.
"I was waiting for it but I thought if I don't get picked that's ok.
"When I got the call though I was pretty happy.”
The young winger will continue a family tradition when he pulls on the colours of his home country.
Older brother Sebastian represented PNG at the 2013 World Cup. Since joining the Ipswich Jets the pair have become a deadly combination in the Intrust Super Cup.
"I thought they were going to pick my brother ahead of me,” Richard said.
"He's been going good and playing good footy.
"I have high hopes for him to be in there again.”
Despite the absence of his older brother, the inclusion of Rod Griffin in the Kumuls squad will reunite Pandia with his former teammate.
Griffin was part of the Jets 2015 premiership outfit before joining the Canterbury Bulldogs last year.
"Rod's sort of like my brother too,” Pandia said. "He's the guy who showed me the ropes about how everything works and what to do at training.
"He and I were so close and it was great when we made the finals.”
As the Intrust Super Cup's second highest try-scorer this year, Pandia now has the chance to take his try-scoring ability to the global stage.
Joining the likes of Luke Page, Nene McDonald and 10 players from the PNG Hunters, the university student said he was proud of the opportunity to represent his home country.
"I didn't think I'd ever (get the opportunity to) play but things happen,” he said.
"I've been under good coaching and good people.
"Ben and Shane have helped me a lot, and my previous coaches from when I left high school as well. It's all led up to this moment.”
Papua New Guinea play Cook Islands on Saturday at Campbelltown Stadium.