4 August, 2015. 10:04
IMRAN GASHKORI | Sports Editor | Contact
THEY call him “The Mack Truck” Mahbobi. Anyone who has met this 17-year-old 115kg rugby league prodigy would be able to see why.
There are currently sixteen professional Australian sport franchises already chasing Shiva Mahbobi, a monster product of the Papua New Guinean Rugby League, who made his senior debut in May, despite being in Year 11.
At 1.9m tall, Shiva Mahbobi’s thighs are the size of most men’s torsos and he weighs 15kg more than South Sydney behemoth Greg Inglis.
Born in the Iranian province of Isfahan, Shiva Mahbobi is currently playing football for The Port Moresby Vipers, after his family relocated from Manus Island earlier this year to allow him to focus on his sporting aspirations. And it seems to have paid off with “The Mack Truck” already getting a start with the international side, the PNG Kumuls, last weekend.
“It was a big decision to leave Manus Island. We had only just settled down with our temporary visas, having been released from detention late last year” says Shiva, who’s father was a brain surgeon, prior to them leaving the Middle East as illegal boat people to avoid religious persecution.
“Manus Island was quickly becoming home, but in order for me to make it in rugby league, we had to get to the mainland,”
At just under 7 feet and weighing more than most current NRL props, Mahbobi surprised Papuan recruiters when it was revealed that his position of choice was on the wing.
“You can play this kid wherever you want” said Port Moresby coach, Ed Liston.
“His hands are like glue and he is just short of eleven seconds over 100 metres”
As twelve different NRL clubs, and three different Super Rugby clubs rush to get a signature from the young star, there seems to be one big problem.
“I don’t want to live in Australia” says the young former-asylum seeker.
“My family weren’t treated very kindly by the Australian Government. We looked to them for refuge when my father’s medical practice was firebombed by extremists and my family was threatened with rape and murder simply because we weren’t interested in religion,”
“Australia towed our boats to Manus Island and left us to rot in a detention centre. They dehumanised us and drove us to suicidal measures. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was given a Steeden [rugby football] by a compassionate Save The Children volunteer, we would have died there”
In what has been described as a Hollywood story of rags to riches, it became clear to staff at Manus Island that Shiva Mahbobi may be more than just a filthy brown person. With several of the heavily-tattooed Australian security guards, who witnessed his footballing skills, helping guide his development in the game.
But as far as professional football goes, Shiva has declared he will not be playing in the NRL unless Papua New Guinea get their own club, an idea that has been toyed with for many years.
Shiva’s loyalty to his new home country has once again resparked the debate over the need for an NRL club based in the Melanesian nation, where the rugby league is the national sport.
With icons of the game such as Gus Gould and Wayne Bennett both speaking up over the importance of expanding across the pacific, some say it all comes down to Shiva.
“If PNG gets an NRL club, then I will play NRL. If not then I will remain here playing local football. I was briefly interested in the New Zealand Warriors, but I would prefer to stay in Moresby… It’s my new home”
“I have been offered upward of $600,000 by some of those clubs. Unfortunately for them, money doesn’t mean anything to me. I am loyal to Papua New Guinea. They have accepted my family, and I have accepted them. Unity In Diversity is their national motto,”
“This is what the Australian Goverment wanted, they wanted to assimilate us into PNG. Well, that’s what happened. I’m sorry for the fans.”
This dramatic gridlock has spurred many everyday Australian voters, who were once indifferent to the plight of asylum seekers, to voice their concerns about the Australian Government’s anti-Asylum seekers sentiment.
“Just let the bloke come over here. Bring his family too, bring anyone. He’s obviously the type of bloke we want here” says South Sydney die-hard, Lindon McGrady.
“Who does Abbott think he is? This bloke is human like the rest of us. So are are his family members”