Fresh-faced and leading his country with aplomb, Ricky Wadunah is doing his parents proud.
The Wadunah family have been on the football scene for over a decade now, and the OFC U-17 Championship is proving the perfect environment for the youngster to make an impact.
“It feels good to represent my country, there’s a lot of pride.”
Adding to the thrill of his debut was receiving the honour of leading the squad.
“I was pretty surprised when I was chosen as captain. Actually I was shocked,” he said.
His first introduction to football was courtesy of his mother Rachel.
One of the first female OFC B Licence candidates for Papua New Guinea, Rachel was assistant coach of the senior women during their successful XV Pacific Games campaign. She then took on the same role under Lisa Cole as Papua New Guinea made their debut at a FIFA tournament during the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
Given her pedigree, the young midfielder hopes his mother feels the same pride seeing him on the field, as he did watching her in action last year.
“My mum influenced me a lot when it came to taking part in football. When I was very small, about four, she gave me the ball to kick around the yard,” he said.
Ricky’s father, former Madang Soccer Association president and affiliate of the Papua New Guinea Football Association, Conrad Wadunah along with other family members have also played a role in the OFC U-17 Championship debutant’s development, creating a football-loving environment within the family.
“It has helped me a lot having so many people around. They give me good encouragement, they strengthen me, and they give me advice about football.”
The 16-year-old’s father was just as surprised as his son when Ricky was called up as skipper, but Conrad could not speak more highly of his son’s commitment and passion for the game and believed no one deserved the role more.
“Ricky is a very introverted kid. He says very little and for him to be appointed as captain gave me doubt at first, especially in this big tournament,” he said.
“But one cannot doubt his commitment. He wakes up early at 5am to practice his football and stays up until midnight to do his school work. That’s his routine.
“It was a great honour to see him appointed as the captain, especially someone like him. It was always his dream to represent PNG and hopefully excel into the professional game.”
Papua New Guinea’s OFC U-17 Championship campaign means even more to Ricky after experiencing the unique atmosphere and inimitable pride of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea last year.
“It was a pleasure to see all the talents from around the world, see all the different people. It was very nice,” he said.
“It was a moment of pride, our country taking part in an international tournament.”
Wadunah’s focus now is on tonight’s final Group A fixture against Tahiti which offers Papua New Guinea one last chance for progression, and the opportunity for Wadunah to continue his journey towards his World Cup dream.
“We are very confident. The boys can do it. We can do it,” he said of the team’s desire to stay in the competition.
“Tahiti are fast so we will be disciplined, man-mark, listen to the coaches and we will get what we want out of it.”
Regardless of the outcome, Wadunah has no plans for slowing down after the OFC U-17 Championship wraps up.
“I want to play for the U-20s then I want to play with the national team,” he said.
“I hope to see Papua New Guinea get up to the top one day but it will take a lot of hard work and determination.”
Papua New Guinea take on Tahiti in their final Group A fixture at the OFC U-17 Championship at Stade Pater in Papeete, Tahiti, at 7pm (local time) tonight.