A two week break courtesy of a bye in Round 4 and the Easter long weekend will have the SP PNG Hunters fit and raring to go when they take on the Northern Pride in Round 5 of the QRL Hostplus Cup. Kick-off is at 5:30pm this Saturday, 15th April at Barlow Park, Cairns.
With one win, one draw and one loss from their opening three games, there is plenty to be excited about for the Hunters faithful in 2023. Despite not all results going their way, there are genuine signs of improvement in this squad under new Head Coach Stanley Tepend, and the Hunters have a great opportunity to maintain their position inside the Top Eight when they take on the Northern Pride on Saturday.
While rookie fullback Morea Morea featured heavily across the opening three games, it is the work of the teammates around him that is allowing Morea to shine in attack. The Hunters forward pack led by Ila Alu has been strong to start the season, consistently winning the yardage battle and generating momentum for the spine to play on the back of.
Hooker Wesser Tenza and halves Jamie Mavoko and Sakias Komati have combined effectively to begin the year. Tenza is directing traffic from dummy-half and getting the Hunters into certain areas of the field to set up their attack. From there, Mavoko, Komati and Morea are linking smoothly in the backline to shift the ball to spaces on the edge. The Hunters are playing a fast, aggressive style of football this season and they will look to continue that form into Round 5.
The Northern Pride will provide the Hunters with a stern test on Saturday, currently sitting in fifth place on the Hostplus Cup ladder and enjoying one of the best defensive records in the competition. They’ve conceded an average 16 points per game to start the season, helping them to a 2-and-1 record heading into Round 5. It makes for an exciting matchup on Saturday, with the Hunters expansive attack pitched against the Pride’s resilient defence.
The Hunters own defence will need to be on high-alert this weekend, particularly around the ruck when defending their try-line. The Northern Pride are a constant threat out of dummy-half with hookers Chris Ostwald and Denzel King sharing the role in 2023. Both players had a hand in tries for the Pride last week and will be key contributors for the home side on Saturday.
Players to Watch
While the Hunters backline stars continue to feature in the highlight reels, it is the work of their forward pack that deserves credit, three games in. Ila Alu, Junior Rop and Epel Kapinias have all been in strong form to start the season, helping the Hunters to win the middle and create scoring opportunities out wide.
It’s a good example of the importance of experience and repetition at Queensland Cup level. Alu (49 QRL appearances), Rop (50) and Kapinias (43) are all reaping the rewards of their efforts over the last few years to produce arguably career-best form to begin the 2023 season. All three have been effective in yardage to get the Hunters rolling through the middle, and Alu last week crossed for his first try of the season – and just the second of his career – by running a great support line off hooker Wesser Tenza in good-ball. If Rop and Kapinias keep carrying the ball like they have, it won’t be long before they trouble the scoreboard either.
The middle has long been an area of strength for the Hunters in the Hostplus Cup and this year looks no different with Alu, Rop and Kapinias leading the way.
Head Coach Stanely Tepend paid tribute to his forward pack this week after a strong start to the season.
“They (Alu, Rop & Kapinias) play an important role for us in the middle,” said Tepend.
“The middle of the field is where games are won or lost and we’ve been going well thanks to the work of those three in around the ruck. Wesser (Tenza) has also been a big a part of this from dummy-half.”
Tepend said the growing experience of his forwards is helping the Hunters compete against more fancied opposition.
“Each year these guys get a bit more experience. It can be a heavy toll on the body playing in the middle and as they play more games, they get a bit wiser and more confident. We’re only now getting the benefits of their experience over the last few years.”
Looking ahead to Round 5, Tepend says defence has been a focus for his team as they prepare to face the Northern Pride.
“The good thing is we know we can score points. Every time we get into good-ball we have looked threatening, but now it’s more about stopping the opposition from scoring,” said Tepend.
“We’ve focussed a lot on our defence over the last two weeks. We’ve worked on fixing some things as individuals – mainly our discipline – which I think will help us perform better as a team.”
“It’s been good to use the last two weeks to improve in those areas.”
1. Morea Morea
2. Brandon Nima
3. Junior Igila
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. Benji Kot
13. Ila Alu (captain)
14. Trevor Solu
15. Tom Moide
16. Koso Bandi
17. Henry Noki
18. Joshua Mire
19. Siki Konden
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