The SP PNG Hunters fought right to the death but couldn’t overcome an impressive Northern Pride outfit on Saturday night, falling short 34-14 at Barlow Park, Cairns in Round 5 of the QRL Hostplus Cup.
As they have done in almost every game this season, the Hunters successfully defended their try line in the opening stages. The Pride enjoyed back-to-back attacking sets courtesy of some Hunters ill-discipline but couldn’t find a way through the PNG defence. Taking confidence from their resilience without the ball, the Hunters charged upfield themselves to find easy metres around the ruck. Pride did well contain PNG’s fifth tackle options through, and the game quickly settled into a grind.
It was the home side who broke the deadlock first when Dantoray Lui capitalised on some enterprising play through the middle. Consecutive offloads in yardage had the Hunters scrambling and they couldn’t contain Lui beside the ruck who took possession at speed to score beside the posts in the 12th minute.
A good set after points had the Northern-based straight back on the attack, until a lovely read from Brandon Nima saw the Hunters winger intercept a floating pass and win possession back for his team. The Hunters almost scored on the back of Nima’s effort when Benji Kot broke through the defence a few tackles later, but a heavy fifth-tackle kick gave Pride easy passage out of their own end.
Just as the Hunters began looking for someone to swing the momentum, halfback Judah Rimbu faked to kick on the last tackle before quickly shifting the ball to the right edge. Rodrick Tai was his target, and the strike centre made the most of Rimbu’s eyes-up play to burn his opposite man, streak down the touchline and score in the corner.
For all their skill in attack, the Hunters ill-discipline in defence continued to make it too easy for the Pride.
Six-again infringements and yardage penalties allowed the home side an easy route to the Hunters try line, and the weight of possession and field position eventually turned into points when Justin Frain and Ash Little crashed over on the right edge.
It looked like PNG had stopped the flow of points at 18-4, but a stroke of luck right on halftime saw Lui bag his second when he charged down a Sakias Komati kick to score under the posts.
Whatever was said in the sheds at the break got a reaction from the Hunters, who were more composed to begin the second half. They worked through their sets smartly and tidied up their discipline to lock the Pride inside their own half. The territorial pressure eventually drew a penalty for a high shot on Rimbu, and his halves partner Komati sliced through to score just two tackles later.
Some good service from PNG’s bench allowed the visitors to maintain the rage through the middle when fatigue set in. Tom Moide had some lovely involvements as both a ball distributor and a veritable wrecking ball himself, helping the Hunters to win the ruck and play with good field position.
The Hunters had all the momentum midway through the second half and looked like reducing the 14-point lead further, until Pride winger Rhy Young crossed in the 59th minute against the run of play. A perfectly weighted cross-field kick found Young in space out wide, taking the score to 28-10 in the final quarter.
Staring down a three-score deficit, the Hunters began throwing caution to the wind. They had some luck in yardage by moving the ball to the edges but the home side stayed resilient, eventually forcing errors with their defence.
With Rimbu forced from the field due to injury and the clock winding down, the Hunters didn’t look for excuses. They continued to fight for attacking field position, eventually earning it on the back of some strong carries from Ila Alu and Junior Rop. Set up in front of the posts, PNG worked the ball to the left wing smoothly through the backline for Nima to dive over in the corner.
That was as close as the Hunters got to a miracle comeback though. The Pride won some field position of their own in their next possesion, scoring through centre Bernard Lewis down the left edge. A lovely sideline conversion from Evan Childs added the extras, with Pride coming away 34-14 winners in a grinding affair.
SP PNG Hunters Head Coach Stanley Tepend was disappointed with his side’s performance.
“The boys are hurting,” said Tepend. “That was a really disappointing performance from us today.”
“That was a winnable game for us but we’ve got to be more disciplined. We know we’re a talented side but you don’t need talent to get back onside or hold the ball. We didn’t get the basics right tonight.”
With a quick turn-around this week before facing the Bears at Burleigh next Saturday, Tepend said there is plenty of work to be done.
“We’ll have a look at ourselves and where we can improve before next week. It’s a tough game coming up but that’s what this competition is all about – turning up each week.”
Northern Pride 34 def. SP PNG Hunters 14
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Photo courtesy of Chris Robson Photography for Northern Pride Media