The SP PNG Hunters have produced back-to-back wins for the second time this season, making light work of the Western Clydesdales in Round 13 of the QRL Hostplus Cup.
The growing crowd at the Santos National Football Stadium were treated to a high-scoring affair on Saturday, 10th June as the Hunters continued their impressive run of form at home this season.
A poor fifth tackle kick from the visitors in the fifth minute gave the Hunters a seven-tackle set working off their line. Some good sliding defence from the Clydesdales quickly swung momentum back in their favour though, forcing an error early in the count to get first shot in attacking territory.
The Hunters survived the early raid comfortably. They worked well from the inside to repel a fairly clunky Clydesdales attack on both edges. Taking confidence from their defence, the Hunters moved the ball smartly in yardage, finding good metres through Benji Kot on the left edge and Epel Kapinias on the right.
With the game settling into an early grind, the Hunters again attacked with their defence.
A promising backline movement from the visitors came to a sudden halt when Rodrick Tai and Solo Wane jammed expertly on the right edge to prevent a certain try.
Having defended their own line, the Hunters quickly earned themselves a shot at the Clydesdales’ thanks to a yardage penalty late in the exit set.
Making the most of his first opportunity in good-ball, Hunters lock Tommy Moide repeated his efforts from last week to crash over beside the posts.
Joshua Mire’s successful conversation gave the Hunters a 6-0 lead after 15 minutes.
Needing a response, the visitors soaked up the scoreboard pressure to defend with venom and force a poor fifth-tackle kick from the Hunters. With the ensuing seven-tackle set, they charged into attacking field position and threatened down their right edge this time.
Again though, the Hunters defence held firm.
Brandon Nima and his new centre partner – debutant Joshua Lau – worked together effectively to contain the Clydesdales attack, bundling the ball carrier into touch not once, but twice in the space of five minutes.
Having dominated without the ball, Nima finally got his chance in attack.
Some bruising defence from Moide and Junior Rop forced an error in yardage from the visitors and halfback Judah Rimbu made them pay with a perfectly weighted grubber into the in-goal.
Clydsedales fullback Jordan Lipp couldn’t clean up the loose ball and Nima was the beneficiary one channel wider.
The Hunters enjoyed most of the momentum around the ruck and it wasn’t long before they were back on the attack. The contributions of Casey Dickson, Sanny Wabo and Philimon Kimisive ensured PNG lost none of their impact when rotating their forwards, and the Clydsedales simply had no answers.
Wabo in particular continued his stellar run of form, providing the Hunters with a handy ballplaying option in the middle-third. His ability to link the ruck with the edges saw Rimbu target the spaces out wide, eventually helping rookie centre Lau to cash in on debut.
With a 16-0 lead courtesy of Mire’s conversion, the Hunters took plenty of confidence into the break and started the second half with aplomb.
Forcing an early error with their line speed, the Hunters quickly set up camp on the Clydesdales line.
Rimbu and Mire repeatedly dropped their forward runners back against the grain, testing the ruck defenders. Eventually the tactic worked when Kimisive drew a penalty and then charged into the line from the tap, carrying three defenders over to score.
Sanny Wabo was next to get in on the action, pouring through the space behind the markers in yardage to break into the backfield. Another big right foot step wrongfooted the fullback as Wabo finished a spectacular solo try, much to the delight of the home crowd.
As the scoreboard climbed, it was only a matter of time until Morea crossed the line.
He eventually did in the 51st minute, slicing through the defence on the left edge to pass Lau into space. A good offload back to Morea beat the cover defence as the Hunters took a 34-point lead.
As fatigue set in and the conditions took its toll, the error count rose for both sides. In the disruption, the visitors scored a consolation try through Drew Timms to add some respectability to the scoreboard.
It was all the Hunters in the end though.
A late try to strike centre Rodrick Tai summed up the Hunters dominance in this game. Their spine players engaged the line effectively to create space for Morea on the edges, and the rookie fullback summed things up smartly from there.
Morea had one of his busiest games as a Hunter in this one. With multiple spine players missing this week, Morea needed to step up and he did. He got on the ball in a distributing role in exit sets and was his typical threatening self in attack.
In the pack, Rop and Moide were again immense to consistently win the grind through the middle. Add in the contributions of Dickson and Kimisive and the Hunters were well served in the forward battle.
To produce this kind of performance with so many key players unavailable is a credit to the coaching staff and the development of their next-gen stars. Players like Mire, Rimbu, Morea, Tai and Moide all owned the occasion and made their contributions count despite the odds being stacked against them.
With the confidence of back-to-back wins, the Hunters will again look to make the most of their home ground advantage when they host Souths-Logan Magpies at Santos National Football Stadium on Saturday, 17th June.
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