The SP PNG Hunters have produced a brave 18-10 win over the Mackay Cutters in Round 7 of the QRL Hostplus Cup, treating the home crowd at Santos National Football Stadium to a grinding 80 minutes of football on Saturday afternoon.
An early penalty in yardage from the home side put Mackay on the attack early. As they’ve done in most games this season though, the Hunters turned up in defence to repel the Cutters on both edges. A try saving tackle from Junior Rop on his own line summed up the defensive intent PNG started with in this one.
As the game settled into a grind, both sides played conservatively in yardage. They traded blows through the middle of the field and either died with the ball on the last or kicked to the corners.
When the Hunters doubled up on their errors to gift Mackay another shot on their line, it looked like the visitors might take an early lead but again the Hunters defence held firm. They absorbed the pressure confidently to work upfield and force a mistake themselves thanks to a towering kick from rookie five-eighth Joshua Mire.
From there the Hunters did what the Cutters couldn’t and turned their field position into points with a slick set play from the scrum. Taking the ball out the back of shape, fullback Morea Morea skipped across-field to slice through the defence with a burst of speed, giving PNG the early lead.
Ill-discipline from Mackay around the ruck gave the Hunters another chance to trouble the scoreboard soon after, and Benji Kot took it with both hands. A backline movement on the Cutters line ended with Kot on the left edge, where he showed some nice skill to fool the defence with a dummy and sneak through the line.
As fatigue crept into the game, the ruck area loosened up and the Hunters began to dominate. Their one-off carries repeatedly bent the line to get Mackay rolling backwards in yardage, allowing halves Mire and Jamie Mavoko to kick smartly on the last. A good grubber from Mavoko forced an error from the Cutters on their line, but Mackay’s defence held firm on this occasion despite Mire troubling them a few times out wide.
A huge shot from Epel Kapinias and Ila Alu forced a handling error in Mackay territory as they tried to work it off their line in the next set, but some desperate defence from the visitors denied Rodrick Tai in the right-hand corner and Kot on the left when the Hunters looked to strike back.
Navigating through a tough period without the ball, Mackay made the most of a yardage penalty to score through Josh Smith. From a midfield scrum, five-eighth Bayley Gill poked his nose through the line to get an offload away for Gill in support. Brandon Finnegan added the extras to cut the Hunters lead to four.
The Hunters looked like they’d answered right back when Brandon Nima crashed over the line in the corner, finishing a lively attacking set that saw the Hunters charge 80+ metres upfield. A no try call denied the Hunters on this occasion, but Julius Yakoba latched onto a lovely Mavoko short ball in their very next set to give PNG a 14-6 lead at halftime.
Mackay burst out of the gates after the break with a flourish of enterprising attacking play.
They earned multiple repeat chances on PNG’s line to begin the second half but couldn’t produce the winning play as the Hunters defence muscled up.
Eventually the weight of possession told when the Cutters got a lucky bounce off the legs of Kot to gift the visitors a fresh attacking set. Having had no luck passing the ball, Mackay resorted to the boot instead to send the ball high on the last. Right winger Flynn Camilleri was the beneficiary, flying above the Hunters defence to score an athletic four-pointer.
With all the possession from the 40th- 60th minute though, the Cutters only managed that lone try. The Hunters stayed patient despite the territorial pressure and finally swung the momentum with a number of crunching tackles in yardage. Taking confidence from their defence, the Hunters used just three tackles in Cutters territory to set up Tai on the right edge for an 18-10 lead.
With a two-score lead, the Hunters embraced the grind and defended through to the siren. They endured extended periods without possession but refused to break in the face of a desperate Cutters attack. Keeping their nerve, the Hunters held on until fulltime to claim their second win of the season.
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