The SP PNG Hunters played out a brave 22-22 draw against the Souths-Logan Magpies in Round 2 of the QRL Hostplus Cup, treating the locals at the Logan Metro Football Fields to an intense and competitive 80 minutes of football on Saturday night.
Just as they did in Round 1, the Hunters started fast in this game to trouble the scoreboard in the opening minutes.
Relying on a power game through the middle, the Hunters hit either side of the ruck as Wesser Tenza directed traffic smartly from dummy-half. Souths-Logan compressed their defensive line to combat the Hunters momentum but couldn’t clean up a clever fifth tackle kick from five-eighth Sakias Komati which forced an error.
The Hunters wasted no time going straight on the attack, threatening once on the right edge with a neat switch play off the scrum before setting things up near the left post.
With the Hunters backline fanned out to the right, there was no secret where the ball was headed but Souths-Logan had no answers. The Hunters spine linked up beautifully as Komati, Jamie Mavoko and Morea Morea executed a set play that ended with Rodrick Tai crashing over in the corner.
Not to be outdone by his centre partner, Benji Kot was next to cross when the Hunters searched left in the 14th minute. Having already threatened to break the line earlier in the tackle count, Kot got the better of his opposite number when he collected a perfect cut-out pass from Komati and powered his way to the line.
The Hunters were dominating proceedings to begin the contest and Souths-Logan could barely make it out of their own half until back-to-back penalties gifted them cheap field position. They would make the most of that possession to score through Alex Fidow in the 18th minute, bringing the scores to 8-6.
The Magpies threatened to ride their momentum into the ensuing kick-off set when PNG conceded another brace of penalties. Just as they did last week against the Clydesdales however, the Hunters defended their errors and held firm on their try line. With good line speed and plenty of numbers in the tackle, the Hunters eventually forced an error when the Magpies shifted late in the count.
Having defended their mistakes, the Hunters immediately went back on the attack. A linebreak in yardage for Kot got his team into attacking territory and Mavoko made the most of it with a lovely grubber into the in-goal, forcing a line dropout. The Hunters couldn’t score in the next set due to some desperate Magpies defence but their dominance in the yardage battle bode well for the remainder of the contest.
Hunters five-eighth Komati looked dangerous with every possession as he linked with Morea and Kot in attack. The trio presented Souths-Logan with some lovely variation on PNG’s left edge and it felt like only a matter of time before they’d produce more points.
It was the Magpies who would score next though when Jack Svendsen crashed over beside the ruck in the 35th minute. In the hot and humid conditions, fatigue and time in possession became a real factor and the Hunters couldn’t contain Souths-Logan when they earned back-to-back attacking sets. The PNG defence held firm on the edges but couldn’t reset on their line quickly enough when Svendsen scored late in the set, giving the Magpies a 12-8 lead at the break.
Whatever was said in the sheds clearly had an impact on the Hunters, who came charging off the back fence to begin the second half. They poured through the middle courtesy of some powerful carries before setting up at the posts on the Magpies try line.
A lovely wrap-around play between Tenza and Komati stretched the defence on the left edge, and when Kot offloaded back inside to Tenza, Souths-Logan were scrambling. Showing lovely vision and ballplaying skills, Tenza weaved his way through traffic to pass Komati into space beside the posts.
With the scores tied up at 12-12, tempers began to flare as both sides fought for ascendency. Eventually the referee had to intervene when the Magpies Tristan Sailor and the Hunters Sherwin Tanabi were sent to the sinbin midway through the second half.
With both teams down a player, it was the Hunters who would capitalise first when Morea zig-zagged his way to the line in the 56th minute. Orchestrated smartly by Tenza from dummy-half, the Hunters compressed Souths-Logan’s defensive line with consecutive hit-ups around the post before shifting to the spaces late in the set. A good ball from Mavoko found Morea on the edges where his footwork and speed caught the Magpies napping.
Five-eighth Komati scored his second in the very next set as the Hunters went the length from the kickoff. Julius Yakoba used his trademark flick pass to put Tai down the right touchline and two tackles later it was Komati streaking through the defence on the far side of the field to score.
Desperate to stay in the contest, the Magpies returned serve when Fe’ao Maka crossed in the 63rd minute following some enterprising play from the locals. Maka was backed up by Cruise Ten just minutes later and when Magpies halfback Jack Campagnolo added the extras, the scores were again tied up at 22-apiece.
A frantic final 10 minutes followed as both sides desperately searched for the winning play. Souths-Logan looked like they’d found it when Campagnolo had a crack at the field-goal from right in front, but a huge effort from Tanabi charged the kick down.
PNG had the final shot when Souths-Logan conceded a penalty right on the buzzer, but the 45 metre kick proved a stretch too far for the Hunters who had to settled for a 22-22 draw despite arguably being the better side throughout.
SP PNG Hunters Head Coach Stanley Tepend was optimisitc about the result.
“It’s a little disappointing not to get the win as I felt we were probably the better side for most of the game,” said Tepend.
“We just gave it away at the end there. We probably could’ve closed the game out a little better when we were in front, but that comes with experience. We’ll learn a lot from that.”
Tepend said he was happy to focus on the positives and didn’t want to put the blame on the Hunters missed conversions.
“We did have an opportunity at the end there to win it, but we don’t want to complain or focus on those missed conversions. We could’ve done a few other things in the game a bit better – six-agains, cheap turnovers, our discipline – to help control the result.”
“There’s still a lot more improvement in us.”
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