WORLD Cup ambassador Jodie Cunningham believes Warrington Wolves could land themselves a whole new fan base after the 2021 tournament – in Papua New Guinea!

The 28-year-old England Women international, who is also playing a key organisational role in what is being billed to be the biggest and best Rugby League World Cup in history, knows first-hand the passion behind the sport on the South Pacific island and is excited that their national men’s team will be based in her home town of Warrington for the 36-day event ¬– as announced last Wednesday on the milestone of 500 days to go.

Cunningham, who started as a player at Cardinal New man High School and now represents St Helens in the Women’s Super League, played in PNG with England last autumn.

“Papua New Guinea is one of those nations that I think everybody would be ecstatic about having based in the town,” said Cunningham, the Women’s World Cup ambassador who also has the full-time role of community engagement lead for the 2021 tournament.

“I think it will be great for the town and the community to have the PNG players here because they’re such passionate people.

“They absolutely love rugby league. When I went out there in October last year you could really see that rugby league was just paramount and the most important thing to them.

“We played a game in Goroka. I think there’s something like 17,000 people who live there and over 7,000 were at the game to watch us play, that’s over a third of the town and it’s quite a deprived area. So the fact that they came and paid to watch a rugby league game was outstanding and shows how much they really love the game.

“I know when the Kumuls come over and stay in Warrington they will definitely bring passion and excitement and they have such a vibrant culture, so it’s a really exciting announcement for Warrington.”

She shared more of her experience on the island, while acknowledging how much it would mean to her for the Kumuls to be so warmly received in the town next year as Samoa were when based in Warrington for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.

“We genuinely felt like celebrities over there,” she said.

“I’ve never had people turn up at the hotel and ask for you with gifts. It was absolutely crazy, because it was happening on a regular basis at the hotel and the different places we stayed while in Papua New Guinea.

“There was handmade bags for us and other gifts. They absolutely loved the ground that you walked on.

“They’d be running out to the bus as we were on the team coach to go to training or games. Kids and adults would be running up the street just to wave and get a glimpse.

“It was a surreal experience for us and it was great to see in another country how huge rugby league is over there, where it’s the national sport.

“Hopefully we can use some of that excitement and generate a little bit more in 2021 when the tournament’s on.

“And then when they go back home hopefully they will have had really positive experiences to share from their time in Warrington.

“The town welcomed and opened their arms for Samoa in 2013 and I’m sure they’ll do the exact same thing for Papua New Guinea when they come over here.

“What a fantastic experience it will be for them. They’ll be treated like royalty in terms of World Cup levels. They are elite athletes and where they will be staying and the different environments they will have for training facilities are all going to be fantastic.

“Some of the athletes, particularly the women’s athletes (who will be based in Leeds) haven’t travelled too much outside of Papua New Guinea so when they see the facilities over here they’ll be really impressed with what we have to work with.

“I feel really honoured and grateful for everything I have over here and the opportunities that I have, so I’m sure the men when they come over they’ll enjoy the fantastic facilities and that they’ll be warmly welcomed.

“Hopefully they’ll go home with a great love of Warrington and hopefully adopt Wolves as their Super League team.

“When we were out there, we saw that they all follow and know the Super League teams – it didn’t really matter what team it was, they just loved any sort of gear that you could hand out.

“So I gave out some of my old shirts and they absolutely loved it. I reckon when the Kumuls go back there’ll be newly adopted Warrington fans after the great experience their men’s national team has in the town.”