The SP PNG Hunters and Burleigh Bears have played out an emotional and hotly contested 80 minutes at UAA Park, Gold Coast in Round 6 of the QRL Hostplus Cup, with Burleigh retaining the Kokoda Cup in a 46-20 point win.
The home side dominated possession and field position right from the kick off. They found easy metres in yardage to quickly park themselves on PNG’s line, forcing a dropout when Morea Morea was dragged into the in-goal by an energetic kick chase. In the ensuing set, a slick left-edge movement through the Burleigh backline was finished off by NRL veteran Ken Maumalo in the corner.
A penalty late in the following kick-off set invited the Bears straight back on the attack, where they enjoyed their share of luck to score a second try through Pat Politoni. The Hunters defence looked like they’d jammed the ball loose in a strong tackle beside the ruck, but the ball was deemed to go backwards and Politoni was the man on the spot for the home side.
Another powerful kick-off set in yardage again put Burleigh in position for an attacking kick on the last, and this time it was backrower Jacob Alick who had a special involvement to draw another line dropout with a lovely grubber kick down the left edge. Bears right winger Tony Francis was the beneficiary a few tackles later, latching onto a perfectly lofted cut-out pass to give Burleigh a 14-0 lead after just eight minutes.
The Hunters finally got the ball after 13 minutes of defending their line to start the game. Despite the defensive fatigue, the PNG forwards worked effectively upfield and into position for a fifth tackle kick. When that kick came down in the in goal though, the Bears made the most of their seven-tackle set to charge upfield and score through Alick who ran a lovely slip line off his half.
Having had success with the short ball, Burleigh’s halves went back to the well in their next possession. A halfbreak down the right touchline through Francis put the Bears straight back on the attack from the kick-off, and halfback Guy Hamilton put his backrower Hayden Schwass over from there with another neat tip on at the line.
Some ill-discipline from Burleigh eventually gave PNG an opportunity to attack late in the first half, after playing the best part of 30 minutes without the ball.
The Hunters bashed and crashed their way through the middle of the field to set up in good-ball and fall into shape. Interchange forward Tom Moide had some nice involvements tipping the ball along in yardage or tucking it under his arm close to the line. He managed to put some panic in the defence with a strong carry and Junior Rop was the beneficiary one tackle later, barging over to ice a clever switch-play with Wesser Tenza behind the ruck.
Some smart footy from Tenza down the short side in the kick-off set gave PNG another crack at Burleigh’s line before the break. He tripled up down the right edge with Julius Yakoba and Rodrick Tai, taking the Hunters 60+ upfield and into attacking territory. The Bears defence held firm though, repelling a promising raid on the left-hand side of the field before cleaning up a well weighted Sakias Komati grubber.
It looked like that would be it for the Hunters in the first half, but Rop had other ideas. The big prop took a barnstorming carry midway through a yardage set to skittle the defence and pop an offload away for Benji Kot.
Burleigh fullback Keano Kini made a superb try saving effort to deny Kot here, but three tackles later Epel Kapinias emulated his prop-partner to make light work of the defence and crash over the line himself.
The might’ve entered the sheds down 26-10, but the Hunters carried all the momentum into the second half.
They dominated Burleigh with their first defensive set before quickly winning some field position by forcing a Bears error on the kick return. Three tackles later, Komati found Kot with a superb cut-out pass that beat the rushing defence and pitched the strike centre one-on-one with his opposite man. With a swerve and a fend, Kot won the contest to get a lovely offload away to an unmarked Brandon Nima in the corner.
The Bears wrestled some of the momentum back when Tom Steadman scored an opportunistic try in the 50th minute. The Hunters defended everything Burleigh threw at them in this set, until a poor fifth tackle kick got a result when Alick collected the scraps and dribbled a grubber into the in-goal for Steadman to score.
Alick was at it again just minutes later, making the most of some second phase play to skip back through the middle of the field and catch out some fatiguing PNG forwards. The big backrower proved too much to handle with a disrupted defensive line, striding over beside the upright to give Burleigh a 36-14 lead.
With the clock winding down and the Hunters looking for answers, their halves stepped up. Kicking early in the count, Mavoko attempted a 40/20 and struck the ball sweetly to draw an error from Burleigh’s fullback on the kick return. In the ensuing set, Komati pulled shape on the left edge and threw a huge dummy to stroll through the line untouched.
That was as close as PNG got to a miracle comeback, though. Late tries to Kea Pere and Guy Hamilton came once the result was out of reach and while the Hunters defended with a man in the sinbin.
The scoreline is pleasant reading from a Burleigh perspective, but the Hunters more than matched it with the Bears when they had and held the ball. Starved of possession and field position for most of the contest, the Hunters barely had a chance in the opening half and impressed to threaten with a comeback despite the disparity in attacking chances. In the end, the scoreboard pressure and defensive fatigue – and a strong performance from the home side – proved too great a task for PNG.
Photo supplied by Dylan Parker Photography for Burleigh Bears Media