The Papua New Guinea Hunters sounded a warning across the Intrust Super Cup when they dismantled Sunshine Coast Falcons 32-12 in a stirring Rivalry Round win at Bycroft Oval today.
The Hunters repelled the Falcons with their trademark defensive intensity before Norman Brown and Benji Kot grabbed two tries each to help PNG to its third win from four matches.
The Hunters’ Cup rivals weren’t sure what to make of their chances this year as the squad relocated from PNG to their new home at Runaway Bay after serving a 31-day COVID-19 quarantine period that prevented them from playing any pre-season matches.
But wins over Ipswich Jets and Mackay Cutters put the Hunters’ rivals on notice before the alarm sounded with today’s clinical win over a team always rated as competition heavyweights.
There was no better display of the Hunters’ skills than a bone-rattling tackle by skipper Ila Alu and Sylvester Namo that jolted the ball from Falcons winger Nat McGavin in the 21st minute. From the attacking set, Brown crossed for his first try to round out a passage of play that would test any Cup team.
“We won that game today on the back of our defence,” Hunters coach Matt Church said.
“We defended a lot in the first half and then we took advantage of some attacking opportunities. We knew that this game was a step up for us today and a real test of where we’re at as a team.
“I’m really proud of this squad. We’ve had a few obstacles thrown our way but we keep on meeting them.”
The Hunters were reminded of the challenges that face them this season when hooker Wartovo Puara Jnr was forced from the field with an ankle injury. Church said Puara later wanted to return to the field in a positive sign however he would wait to see how the injury went once Puara cooled down.
The Hunters have only 24 players in their squad, meaning injuries are more concerning than the rest of the competition which has access to a wider pool of players.
Puara was able to remain on the field for a few minutes after he was injured, finding enough strength to move down the field and throw a short, sharp pass for Kot’s first try.
That helped the Hunters lead 14-6 at half-time and they extended that margin five minutes into the second half when Kot scored again.
The Falcons threatened the Hunters when hooker Tyson Smoothy scored in the 63rd minute to bring the margin back to 20-12. Ten minutes later, another charging try to prop Samuel Yegip pushed the Hunters clear.
One minute before full-time, the Hunters finished off the match with a smart move from a tap in which centre Brandon Nima and Brown combined for Brown’s second try, completing the Hunters’ third successive win.
“We’ve been practising for this and working hard all week so we are happy to play this way,” Brown said.
Church said he was pleased with the way that the Hunters stood their ground in the middle of the field, taking on the challenge thrown down by the Falcons.
It was the first time the teams had met on neutral ground since their unforgettable 2017 grand final when the Hunters scored late to seal an emotional win.
Hunters’ supporters again turned out in strong numbers today, making plenty of noise as PNG scored six tries, started by Terry Wapi’s slick move in the sixth minute.
In the next round, the Hunters take on the Bears at Burleigh on Anzac Day while the Falcons travel to Townsville to meet the Blackhawks.