The SP PNG Hunters will kick-off their 2023 campaign when they travel to Clive Berghofer Stadium, Toowoomba on Sunday, 12th of March to take on QRL Hostplus Cup new-comers the Western Clydesdales. Kick-off is at 2:10pm.
The Hunters will play out the 2023 season on home soil for the first time in almost three years, having been relocated to the Gold Coast in seasons ‘21 and ‘22 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The anticipation of bringing Queensland Cup rugby league back to Port Moresby is a driving force for the Hunters this year but they will have to play without the home ground advantage on Sunday when they meet the Clydesdales in Toowoomba.
Season 2023 is shaping as a new era for the Hunters with a new coaching staff and a host of changes to the playing squad.
Head Coach Stanley Tepend – the current PNG Kumuls Head Coach – takes the reins this year and has the support of Kumuls legend Paul Aiton in the coaches box. We can expect a different playing style from the Hunters under Tepend’s tutelage this season as they look to improve on their 12th placed finish of 2021.
A partnership with The Dolphins NRL club is another key new element to the Hunters ‘23 campaign. Hunters players Judah Rimbu, Rodrick Tai and Sherwin Tanabi have all returned to the club following an offseason spent training with The Dolphins NRL squad under Wayne Bennett. The experience afforded these players will no doubt have a positive impact on the wider Hunters squad this year.
Tepend is well positioned in 2023 to take full advantage of what is a growing young squad. Thirteen Hunters debuted last season and those who have returned this year will be better for the experience. As always, on-field combinations take time to develop however there is plenty for Tepend and the coaching staff to build on from season 2022.
There is a little more unknown about the Western Clydesdales, who make their return to the Hostplus Cup this week. Formerly the Toowoomba Clydesdales who last competed in the QRL back in 2006, the revamped club will be eager to make it’s mark on the competition.
Inaugural captain Darryn Schonig will lead the club on Sunday and provides the pack with NRL experience, while try scoring and excitement machine Bessie Aufaga-Toomaga – formerly with the Brisbane Tigers – is the headline name in the backs.
In what will be their first home game in more than 15 years, the Clydesdales are expected to play a tough, gritty brand of football in front of an eager home crowd. They might be new-comers in the Hostplus Cup competition but the Western Clydesdales will be anything but an easy opponent on Sunday afternoon.
Player(s) to Watch
While it might take a few weeks for backline combinations to form, one thing we can always expect from the Hunters is a powerful running game through the middle of the field.
Junior Rop, Epel Kapinias and Ila Alu make up a strong middle forward trio while Tanabi and debutant Julius Yakopa line up on the edges. Experienced hooker Wesser Tenza is the man at the ruck and will be tasked with bringing his hard-running forwards into the game.
A recent trial against the Fiji Silktails was a good example of the Hunters ability to dominate the middle third and create scoring opportunities on the back of their momentum. Tenza and Rop in particular struck up a damaging combination in that game, with Rop scoring a hatrick of tries as the Hunters crashed through the middle of the field.
Tenza plays with great vision and sleight of hand from dummy-half, manipulating defenders and passing his forwards into positive areas around the ruck. His ball playing smarts have the ability to test the Clydesdales middle defence on Sunday if the Hunters can earn themselves enough attacking field position.
SP PNG Hunters assistant coach Paul Aiton said he is excited for the squad in what will be their first hit-out of the season.
“We’ve got lots of new faces in the squad this year which is exciting for the club,” said Aiton.
“For some of them, this will be the first time travelling to and playing in Australia. It’s a good opportunity for us to get rid of any nerves and dive right in.”
“Like most teams in Round 1, we’ll be focussing on the basics and keeping it simple. Possession and completion rates will be important.”
Aiton had plenty of respect for the Western Clydesdales and is not expecting an easy game.
“The players coming from that area – they’re always tough,” said Aiton.
“It’s their first game back in the competition and we know they’re not going to come lightly. It’ll be a physical battle.”
- Morea Morea
- Siki Konden
- Benji Kot
- Brandon Nima
- Solo Wane
- Sakias Komati
- Jamie Mavoko
- Junior Rop
- Wesser Tenza
- Epel Kapinias
- Sherwin Tanabi
- Julius Yakopa
- Ila Alu (captain)
- Judah Rimbu
- Tom Moide
- Henry Noki
- Joshua Mire
- Matthew Jesse