Saturday, April 14, 2012

Genesis of the Genia greatness

The rugby star is just another member of the clan back at the family home in Port Moresby, writes Georgina Robinson of Sydney Morning Herald

IT IS LATE afternoon in Port Moresby and we're hurtling through town in the tray of Frank Genia's ute. The sun is warm and hanging low over the harbour as we pass street stalls and clusters of bored young men who survey each passing vehicle with a mix of curiosity and mistrust. Frank, the original star halfback in the Genia clan before his determined little brother Sanchez William stole the mantle, makes only a cursory effort to avoid the many gaping potholes on the dusty roads that head up through hills looking out to the Coral Sea.

Will Genia ... back in his childhood home in PNG. Photo: Georgina Robinson

Will Genia, the linchpin Wallabies halfback, is taking the Herald on a tour of the neighbourhoods in which he spent his childhood as a tubby, round-cheeked young kid his schoolmates nicknamed ''Pooh Bear". Less tubby now than nuggety, he sits in a corner of the tray in a t-shirt and shorts, tapping on the side to tell Frank when to stop, go, or linger.
''The neighbourhood was always quite safe. Here was quite safe,'' Genia says as we drive through a quiet patch in Boroko, a bustling suburb in the centre of Port Moresby.
''You still had to be quite careful. We lived in a little cul de sac so my folks said we could never, ever go past that.You had to be, I guess, protective, but with good reason. The one time we actually ventured out with our bikes, past the cul de sac … we had our bikes stolen. So we never did it again.''
The ute stops outside a large weatherboard home, surrounded by grand old palms but obscured from view by a two-metre high dark green fence topped with barbed wire. Genia's parents, Kilroy and Elizabeth, raised their five children here until 2003, when Will was a 15-year-old at boarding school in Brisbane and no one believed for a second that he could play as well as Frank.
''This is where I grew up, racing up and down with my brothers on our bikes, playing cricket on the road,'' Genia says. ''It's changed a lot but it's a good place. We used to play marbles just here.''
The 2011 Super Rugby Player of the Year is a four-hour flight and a million miles from rugby right now. He has taken an opportunity presented by the Reds' round eight bye to nip home for a few days to see family and help launch an Australian Rugby Union program using the game to teach life skills to school children.
This mid-season visit is a rare treat. Genia usually comes back for a month-long stint at Christmas, when the whole family drives three hours east to their village, Lalaura.
But in the back of his brother's ute on a languid Easter Monday afternoon in Papua New Guinea's wild and bustling capital, the 24-year-old is relishing the break.
''It's good to be home,'' he says. ''I always feel really free when I get back home, away from everything. All the troubles you leave behind and elsewhere, you come back and it's just so laid back, you can do whatever you want, sit in the back of utes, drive around town. It's just carefree and that's the best thing about it.''
We pull into the Genias' home in town, on a hill above the Royal Papua Yacht Club. From their deck, you can see the road snaking along the harbour below with a running path, on which Genia trains during his trips here.
We hop out of the ute and walk past the car space under the house where Frank, Will and their younger brother Nigel spend all their time on these holidays together. There's a table and a few chairs, empty Coke cans and the familiar mess found in all boys' hangouts.
''We just sit there and tell stories about anything and everything for hours on end,'' Genia says. ''We don't really watch TV, we don't really do too much, we just chill out and hang out with family.''
Much of the appeal of home for Genia is that he can slip straight back into his place in the ''clan", as his father affectionately refers to his wife and five children. There are no stars in the Genia household, just hard workers. Each member does what is best for the family. Decisions are shared, as are successes.
Frank is the senior sibling - Will and Nigel still share a bedroom when they come back - and Kilroy Genia, a former foreign minister in the Papua New Guinean government, is the seat of authority. Elizabeth Genia was promoted recently to assistant governor at the Bank of Papua New Guinea. Frank, who introduced Genia to rugby and taught him to play halfback, runs businesses in Port Moresby but spends half his time in Brisbane. Nigel, 20, does labouring work and plays club rugby while he looks after his younger sisters, Anne-Marie and Lorraine, who are in school at Somerville House. Genia's partner Vanessa regularly feeds them all from their home in Carindale, on Brisbane's southside.
''We are very proud of [Will],'' Kilroy Genia says after he and Elizabeth return from Lalaura and join their boys on the deck. ''We've always encouraged him to maintain a level head all the time but other than that we feel that his achievements are also our achievements, because we're a very close-knit family.''
So close-knit that one of Genia's few arguments with his father arose after Kilroy got wind of a plan to go to Europe that his son was hatching a few years ago.
''I said 'You didn't tell Mum and I you were going to Europe. We know you're a big boy but you need to at least talk to us because there are things you might do that will come back and haunt you or that you might regret making those decisions.'''
The move offshore didn't happen then but the topic has been broached again recently as Genia - off contract this year - contemplates his next move. Genia's parents do not want him to leave Australia. Kilroy, soft-spoken but authoritative, looks to his son before expanding on their aversion to Europe.
''It's a decision that Will has to make but if he asks me I would say 'You have the Lions tour coming up and you have one more World Cup to go.'
''Sometimes players - particularly at that age - you get out of the radar. Especially if you still desire to play for Australia. It's better you stay in the country. That's what I've been telling him.''
Genia is obviously tempted by a new experience and the money that might be on offer from European clubs to a young player nearing the peak of his powers.
''I'd love to stay in Queensland and still have the option to play for Australia but at the same time you can't close yourself off to what else is out there, other opportunities that may present themselves,'' he says.
He would like the Reds and the ARU to ''make the decision for me by making me have to stay''. But he knows there are risks if he leaves.
It's a safe bet that there will be a few more family conferences before the question of Genia's future is settled.
''The way we've been brought up it doesn't matter who you are, where you've gone. You can be the richest man in the world, you still give respect to your elders,'' Frank explains as the last of the twilight fades.
''Our parents were brought up that way and it doesn't matter where we live … we still have that respect. If I say something, [the younger children] can't argue with me, that's it. But then it all comes down to Dad. Once he speaks, whether you're right or wrong, that's it. And [Will] is exactly like Dad, he thinks he's right all the time.''

Georgina Robinson travelled to PNG as a guest of the ARU

No comments:

Post a Comment