The SP PNG Hunters have opened their 2023 QRL Hostplus Cup account with a 20-10 win over the Western Clydesdales in dreary conditions at Clive Berghofer Stadium on Sunday.
The Hunters were willing in defence to begin the game, getting their bodies in front effectively and slowing the Clydesdales momentum through the middle. Some ill-discipline in the tackle invited the home side to have two early cracks at the Hunters line, but the defence held firm as PNG waited for a mistake.
That mistake came in the fifth minute when Hunters fullback Morea Morea smartly allowed a Clydesdales attacking kick to go dead in the ingoal. In the ensuing 7-tackle set, the Hunters marched upfield and immediately went on the attack. A slick right edge movement on fourth tackle saw Brandon Nima poke his nose through, before a fifth tackle kick from Jamie Mavoko earned the Hunters a fresh attacking set on the try line.
Hunters five-eighth Sakius Komati turned that field position into points just one tackle later with a lovely show-and-go that split the defence beside the posts. Mavoko added the extras to give PNG a six point lead.
That lead was extended just a few minutes later.
The Hunters defended an error off the kick-off before again charging their way downfield and into attacking territory. Setting up in the middle of the park, the Hunters shifted the ball left through Ila Alu, Komati and Morea as the Clydesdales slid in defence. They looked to have numbered up effectively until Morea pushed through the line to get a one-handed offload away to Benji Kot in support.
The Hunters impressive attack was backed up by some bruising and smart defence. Three times in the opening quarter PNG gifted their opposition cheap attacking possession only to force the error themselves a few tackles later. The visitors worked in unison to track the ball across-field as the Clydsedales looked down both edges and the pressure hampered any execution in attack.
The PNG side seemed to take plenty of confidence from their defensive efforts and it wasn’t long before they troubled the scoreboard again. Judah Rimbu entered the game at dummy-half for immediate effect, collecting a late offload and using his speed and vision to almost put Solo Wane over in the corner. Two tackles later and Rimbu tested the same edge defenders to play down a short right side late in the set.
Morea swept around the ruck at the last second to create the overlap and Rimbu picked the perfect pass from dummy-half to put Julius Yakoba into space. The big backrower displayed his vast skillset to flick a back-handed offload away to Nima as the defence jammed in, giving PNG a 14-0 lead.
With halftime looming the Clydesdales finally capitalised on the Hunters ill-discipline to score through Bessie Toomaga. The visitors defended well to repel the Clydesdales early in the set but when a fifth tackle kick took a deflection and landed in the hands of Cory McGrady there was little PNG could do. Simple hands found an unmarked Toomaga in the corner, cutting the Hunters lead to 10 going into the break.
The PNG side began the second half as they did the first.
Absorbing pressure in defence before earning opportunities in attack, the Hunters again found points through Yakoba and Nima on the right edge in the 46th minute. Some clean ball from halfback Mavoko was all Yakoba needed in this instance, drawing three defenders to the tackle before offloading to Nima who darted over the line to score.
Tempers flared midway through the second half following a number of brutal defensive efforts from both sides. The Clydesdales Melino Fineanganofo and PNG’s Sherwin Tanabi were in the thick of the action, both men refusing to concede in what was a very physical contest.
As fatigue began creeping into the game, the Hunters ill-discipline in defence gifted the Clydesdales a chance to attack and as they did before the break, the home side capitalised on it. Using the slippery conditions to their advantage the Clydesdales barged their way over the line in the 58th minute through Todd White, reducing the deficit to 10.
It looked like the beginning of a comeback from the home side as the Hunters came up with repeat errors on both sides of the ball, inviting their opposition back into the game. Just when PNG needed to halt the Clydesdales momentum, a good fifth tackle kick from Mavoko forced the locals to work it off their own line as the clock wound down.
The Clydesdales got one last crack at troubling the scoreboard in the shadows of fulltime, but as they did for most of the first half the Hunters denied them. Fittingly, the Hunters bruising defence and some smart positional play from Morea at fullback saw the PNG side repel the Clydesdales attack as the siren sounded.
SP PNG Hunters Head Coach Stanley Tepend was delighted with his side’s effort in the trying conditions.
“The way we defended our line early on was pleasing,” said Tepend.
“They had a few chances to attack our line early with back-to-back sets but we adjusted to the conditions well and managed to withstand their attacking raids early and get off to a good start.”
“To go down the other end and score with our first opportunity in attack was big for us. It was our first game with a number of debutants but a good start helped to settle the nerves.”
“That was an important win.”
Fulltime: SP PNG Hunters 20 def. Western Clydesdales 10