The SP PNG Hunters have posted back-to-back wins for the first time this season, outscoring the Ipswich Jets 40-28 in Round 8 of the QRL Hostplus Cup.
A heaving crowd at the Santos National Football Stadium was treated to a smorgasbord of attacking football on Saturday afternoon as the Hunters and Jets traded shots in a high-scoring affair.
The points didn’t come straight away, though. Both sides were disciplined to begin the game and worked through their sets cleanly to kick to the corners. The Hunters enjoyed good service from middles Henry Wan Noki, Ila Alu and Junior Rop in the opening stages as they rolled downfield, while the Jets kicking game kept them in the yardage battle.
Consecutive penalties from the visitors eventually gave the Hunters their first attacking opportunity and Morea Morea took it with both hands.
On the back of a strong Epel Kapinias carry, PNG shifted the ball wide through Wesser Tenza, Sakias Komati and Jamie Mavoko. The Hunters halfback put on some nice footwork to engage the defence before passing Morea into space on the right edge. The rookie fullback was too quick for the cover defence from there, streaking into the backfield to score beside the posts.
The Ipswich Jets answered right back through backrower Joel Holdsworth though.
It was PNG this time who gave up repeat ruck infringements, inviting the Jets onto their try line. A lovely short ball from Ipswich halfback Dray Ngatuere-Wroe sent Holdsworth through the Hunters defence on the right edge, and Ngatuere-Wroe iced the conversion to make it a 6-6 scoreline.
A grinding period followed as both sides traded blows. It was the Hunters who embraced the pressure best, slowly winning the advantage thanks to some aggressive line speed and contact in defence. Forcing an error as the Jets worked off their own line, the Hunters wasted no time turning field position into points.
A left-edge backline movement this time put Morea in a ballplaying role on the scrum line. He skipped across-field, using his speed to fool the defence before dropping Brandon Nima into a yawning gap back on his inside, giving the Hunters a 10-6 lead.
Wesser Tenza was next to trouble the scoreboard, darting over from behind the scrum to take advantage of a mistake in the defensive line. Jets hooker Rhys Jacks tripped as he broke from the scrum and his opposite man made him pay to earn PNG a gift six points.
Tenza was at it again in the kick-off set, putting Solo Wane into a hole down the short side to win the Hunters attacking field position. Some more bruising defence forced an error from the Jets near their try line, and Tenza made the most of it to pass Tommy Moide into a try scoring position under the posts.
The Hunters took a 22-6 lead into the break thanks to Moide’s try.
The home side started the second half just as they ended the first. Moide was active in yardage and good-ball, chewing up the metres or adding a clever pass option through the Hunters middle. PNG’s territorial dominance applied pressure to Ipswich and they made multiple errors as a result. Nima was on the spot to pounce on one of those errors, taking the Hunters lead to 22 points.
The Jets fired back quickly through Jerome Veve though. Another short ball from Jets five-eighth Lachlan Cooper got Veve into half a gap close to the line, and he powered through to score a well-worked try.
As fatigue set in it was the home side who controlled proceedings best. Judah Rimbu provided good impact from the bench as a ball-playing middle, helping the Hunters to shift the ball smoothly in attack. He chimed into another neat left-edge movement in the 50th minute which ended with Komati sliding over in the corner.
The Hunters weren’t done there though. After defending their line for multiple sets, PNG charged upfield in yardage to set up camp on Ipswich’s line. Tenza controlled things calmly from dummy-half, creating half-chances around the ruck for his teammates. A strong carry and offload from Rop injected panic into the defence, and he backed it up two tackles later to combine with Tenza for a trick-shot behind the ruck.
With a 40-18 lead and time on their side, the Hunters put the cue in the rack. The visitors found a few late points to add respectability to the scoreboard, but they were never a real threat to a confident Hunters outfit.
The end result was a good lesson in patience for the Hunters. The scores were tied 30 minutes into this contest but PNG stuck to their processes and embraced the grind. The early work they did in defence set them up to win it late with a flurry of points once fatigue set in either side of halftime. To concede a few consolation tries will disappoint the PNG-based club, but they did enough to clinch the two competition points in this one.
SP PNG Hunters 40 def Ipswich Jets 28
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