The SP PNG Hunters are expected to run out to a packed crowd at the Santos National Football Stadium this Saturday, 25th of March when they play host to the Brisbane Tigers in Round 3 of the QRL Hostplus Cup. Kickoff is at 3pm.
Saturday’s fixture will mark just the second time the Hunters have played with a home-ground advantage in more than three years. Their return to Port Moresby this season following a challenging relocation period on Queensland’s Gold Coast is a major boost for the club as they look to continue on what is a promising start to the year. The pride and passion of Hunters fans in Papua New Guinea is well renowned and the Hunters will be looking to give them something to cheer for in their first home game of 2023.
The players will take plenty of confidence into this weekend’s game following an impressive display against the Souths-Logan Magpies in Round 2. Although the game ended in a 22-22 draw, the Hunters were clearly the better side to make more linebreaks, throw more offloads, force more dropouts and score five tries to the Magpies four. To do this against a Souths-Logan side bristling with NRL experience is a good sign for Stanley Tepend’s Hunters, who are no strangers to coming up against more experienced opponents.
The Hunters ability to defend their errors is fast becoming a theme of their 2023 season, with some impressive goal-line defence so far repelling both the Clydsedales in Round 1 and the Magpies last week. For a side that is still developing its combinations in defence, the Hunters are working in unison to fill the spaces around the ruck or slide up and out to contain a shift to the edges. Against a Tigers side who can move the ball sharply to the edges thanks to a skilful and experienced spine, the Hunters will need to be at their defensive, resilient best if they are to win this one.
There is an added level of intrigue about Saturday’s match with Brisbane Tigers Head Coach Matt Church returning to the Santos NFS to face his old club for the first time. Church has assembled a quality roster at the Tigers since joining the club and will have his team focussed and ready for this contest. No doubt the Hunters fans will give both he and the Tigers a warm welcome on Saturday afternoon.
Players to Watch
If you’ve been tuning in over the first two rounds, the star of the show has undoubtedly been rookie fullback Morea Morea. He is lighting up the QRL stage in 2023 with one try, two try assists and an average 123 running metres across his first two games, providing the Hunters with silky speed and fancy footwork out the back of shape.
Morea wasn’t the only Hunters lighting up the highlights reel in Round 2 though, as Hunters five-eighth Sakias Komati scored a double to announce himself in the Hostplus Cup competition.
Komati is a triple threat with the ball in hand. He is strong through contact and quick across the ground – as evident in his two try haul last week – but it’s his vision and ballplaying that has the Hunters left edge looking so dangerous, two games in. He is bringing backrower Sherwin Tanabi into the game smartly and appeared to strike up a promising partnership with hooker Wesser Tenza around the ruck last week.
The highlight though was a beautiful long ball to give Benji Kot early ball in space against the Magpies. With time and room to move, the strike centre iced his opportunity to burn his opposite man and crash over the line.
As he gains experience and confidence, Komati can become a real feature of the Hunters attack in 2023.
SP PNG Hunters Head Coach Stanley Tepend says the team’s focus remains inward following a promising start to the season.
“For us, we haven’t changed too much this week,” said Tepend.
“It’s only Round 3, early in the season. We’re not focussing too much on our opposition each week, just looking inward and working on ourselves and where we can improve.”
“Although it was disappointing to come away with the draw last week, I think taking three points from our first two away games is positive for us. We’re still a relatively new side – a lot of guys have made the step up from Digicel Cup this season and are learning what it takes to be successful at this level.”
“We’re satisfied with how we’ve started but there’s still a lot of work to do and areas we can improve on.”
Tepend said the playing squad and staff are looking forward to playing in front of a home crowd this weekend.
“We’ll be using NFS to our advantage this week, for sure,” said Tepend.
“Playing in front of our family and friends is going to be a special feeling. For the players, it’s what they’ve been working towards coming through the Digicel Cup. They’ve always wanted to be a Hunter at NFS and they get their chance on Saturday. The boys are excited.”
1. Morea Morea
2. Brandon Nima
3. Benji Kot
4. Rodrick Tai
5. Solo Wane
6. Sakias Komati
7. Jamie Mavoko
8. Junior Rop
9. Wesser Tenza
10. Epel Kapinias
11. Sherwin Tanabi
12. Julius Yakopa
13. Ila Alu (captain)
14. Judah Rimbu
15. Tom Moide
16. Henry Noki
17. Joshua Mire
18. Junior Igila
22. Trevor Solu
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