PNG cannonball takes to city life the ‘hard’ way
Hard work is wired into Justin Olam's DNA.
The Melbourne Storm centre, who signed a two-year contract last week, grew up farming at Gon, a 300-person village in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.
Olam reaped harvests of vegetables, coffee and peanuts in his homeland and mixed that time with education, a pursuit that landed him at the PNG University of Technology.
More hard work resulted in a degree in applied physics, specialising in electronics and instrumentation, a degree he hopes to put to use when he eventually returns to the farm.
All the while Olam worked feverishly to push his rugby league ambition, first for the PNG Hunters in the Queensland Cup in 2016, then the Sunshine Coast Falcons, Storm's feeder team, after they signed him in 2017.
Olam, 26, finally made his NRL debut in Round 9, 2018, but it wasn't until last season, when he was called into Storm's side in Round 15, that he became a permanent presence.
He hasn't missed a game since, including last year's finals campaign, and will line up for Melbourne when its NRL season restarts with a Round 3 clash against Canberra at AAMI Park on Saturday.
All that hard work, leaving PNG for the first time, getting used to new cities, new foods, and even new accents, has paid off.
"I had to learn things the hard way and I realised that at Storm if you work hard, you will be rewarded and things have worked out my way," Olam said.
"I love it here. I love the food, good culture at the club. I couldn't think of anywhere else I'd rather be."
It has been a long few weeks of training for everyone during the coronavirus-enforced suspension and now a mini pre-season.
Olam partnered with his older brother, Jackins, to stay fit before the club's doors reopened.
"He (Jackins) had been trying out with the Newtown Jets in Sydney, but then the competition was cancelled, so he came down to stay with me," Olam said.
"We were just training and watching a lot of TV.
"I watched all three John Wick movies, even though I'd seen them before, and Friends, the TV show."
Olam had hoped to return home when the NRL season was suspended, but feared he might not get back to Melbourne as restrictions increased, so he stayed.
Every day in Melbourne helps him continue to get used to things, like the food.
"One example, when I first came here I'd never had olives before," Olam said.
"I don't like pasta, spaghetti, that type of stuff. I'm used to eating just whole meat off the bone. We don't put a lot of sauces in our food back home, it's just raw. There are so many sauces here."
Olam has two years at least to try them all and his new deal is the ticket to him finding out just how good a footballer he can be.
"Coming from PNG, I knew I wasn't going to get an easy go. I had to work hard, so I did," he said.
"I want to keep working hard, to take my football as far as it can go."
Originally published as PNG cannonball takes to city life the 'hard' way