Twenty-seven-year-old Martha Molowia is having a break-out tournament at the Rugby League World Cup.
Last week, the Papua New Guinea full-back made her Test debut for international rugby and gilded the lily by earning player of the match.
She followed it up on the weekend by scoring her third try of the cup, helping to secure the PNG Orchid’s spot in the semi-finals — a groundbreaking achievement for Papua New Guinea.
Martha’s father Tuksy Karu is a rugby league legend in PNG. He was one of the original local superstars to emerge in the 1990’s when playing for the Kumuls.
Last week, Martha and Tuksy made history as the first father and daughter to represent PNG in rugby league.
At first it sounds like a familiar fairytale — a young woman follows in the footsteps of her warrior father in her quest for glory normally reserved for men.
The media loved it and leapt on the dad-daughter headline, but there’s a lot more to the story.
Martha was raised by her mum and stepdad and has had little to do with Tuksy since she was seven years old.
Tragically, Martha’s mum died in 2019 when Martha was 24.
Martha was four months pregnant with her first child when her mother passed.
It was a double whammy of life-changing events Martha never saw coming.
After giving birth to her son Rahim Max and losing her mum, somehow she found the strength to pull the boots on again.
Martha’s mum had been the biggest supporter of her footy career.
“It was very hard for me, I felt like I would lose hope but everyone said that you have to do what your mother wants,” Martha said.
“My family continued to support me and told me to continue in sports. So I stood up again, started going to training.
“One thing [mum] told me is she would be very happy if she could see me running on the field at the World Cup. That was one of her dreams also for me.”
Along with her mum, her stepdad provided a stable foundation in life.
“My father Billy Molowia is the one who raised me, he put me through school, took me to places and took care of me.
“My father Billy always said to me if you want to achieve your dreams, its up to you, you can do anything.”
Even though she had little to do with her biological father, Tuksy, everyone in her life knew he was her father and his brilliance on the footy field was a positive influence.
Comparisons to him pushed her natural talent forward.
“They used to tell me that you’ll be like him the way I play … you are built to be like your father so you have to try out,” she said.
Tuksy was known for his speed and cheeky on-field antics, ahead of his time when it comes to try-scoring theatrics.
One of the most famous tries in PNG football history was in 1994 when he crossed the line against the Canberra Raiders and used the ball as a pillow and pretended to go to sleep.
He toured the UK with the Kumuls for the 1992 Rugby League World Cup and regularly represented PNG for rugby league sevens over the decade.
Growing up, Martha lived in many provinces, including the island of New Britain, but when she went back to Port Moresby she would see Tuksy hanging out at the footy fields.
There he’d give her advice on making it to the top like he did, reminding her to be disciplined with her training and to stay humble.
“He doesn’t like staying close to family … but when he comes to the rugby fields, he’s around what he loves the most.”
Martha says she’s not sure where he lives or who looks after him, but he “stays everywhere”.
Recent video and photos of Tuksy show a frail old man sitting in the streets who looks much older than his early fifties.
There is no essence of the tall, grinning athlete who would strap down the field doing somersaults under the posts, but his former glory lives on in Martha, who has a big future in the game.
NRLW scouts are on the hunt at the World Cup.
Martha says it’s her goal to follow Orchids team captain Elsie Albert, who has become a star player for St George Illawarra Dragons.
“That’s a dream for every player in PNG, to be like Elsie Albert, to sign a contract and show our talent,” Martha said.
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