2010 marked a watershed year in Oceania’s football history as Papua New Guinea’s Hekari United became the first team outside of New Zealand or Australia to become champions of the region’s premier club football competition.
The Port Moresby club sealed their continental crown and passage to the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup by stunning New Zealand’s Waitakere United 4-2 on aggregate to put their nation, which was considered a late developer even by Oceanian standards, on the global map.
Hekari still remain one of only two Pacific Island club sides to fly OFC’s flag at a FIFA tournament alongside 2019 OFC Champions League winners Hienghène Sport from New Caledonia.
Founded in 2003 in Port Moresby, originally under the name of PRK Souths United FC, it didn’t take long for Hekari to rise to the top echelons of Papua New Guinean football.
They secured eight consecutive National Soccer League titles between 2006 and 2014, but despite their impressive domestic record, Hekari’s historic 2009-2010 continental campaign remains the club’s greatest achievement.
Following a fourth-place finish at the end of the 2008-2009 competition, the Papua New Guineans had every reason to be optimistic about their chances when they embarked on their new continental journey in October 2009.
After the eight participants were drawn into two groups of four teams, Hekari ended up in Pool B alongside Fiji’s Lautoka, Tafea from Vanuatu and Marist of the Solomon Islands.
Following a slow start that saw them draw 3-all with Tafea before losing 2-1 to Lautoka at home, Hekari kicked into gear to record four consecutive victories to finish on top of the group, just one point clear of Lautoka.
In the two-legged home-and-away title decider, the Melanesians faced two-time champions Waitakere United, who topped Group A on goal difference ahead of fellow Kiwi outfit Auckland City FC.
One of the stars of the team Kema Jack grabbed a brace while Solomon Islander Alick Maemae added another as Hekari eased to a 3-0 victory in the opening leg in Port Moresby in April 2010.
Waitakere responded with a 2-1 win on home soil two weeks later, but it wasn’t enough to overturn Hekari’s lead giving the Papua New Guineans a 4-2 aggregate victory.
A fisherman before taking up football, Jack, who hails from a village known as Kaparoko, where there was no electricity or televisions, scored again in the return leg to emerge as the joint Golden Boot winner for the competition.
Hekari general manager Vonnie Eteaki Kapi-Natto, who had been with the team since it was established in 2003, couldn’t hide his delight following the milestone Oceania title.
“I want to dedicate our success to all the Pacific Island nations. I’m sure this will be good motivation for our children and young people because they’ve seen that their brothers can compete and win at this level,” he enthused.
Hekari’s FIFA Club World Cup debut in December 2010 in Abu Dhabi at the United Arab Emirates was short-lived following a 3–0 loss to hosts Al Wahda FC in the opening match of the competition.
But that doesn’t take anything away from the club’s historic achievement in breaking the dominance of Australian and New Zealand teams for the first time in Oceania’s top club football competition.