The SP PNG Hunters and Sunshine Coast Falcons played out a hotly contested 80-minutes on Sunday afternoon, but it was the Hunters who finished on top with a comprehensive 34-10 victory in Round 15 of the QRL Hostplus Cup.
Atoning for a disappointing loss last week against the competition-leading Souths Logan Magpies, the Hunters started strongly in this one.
They made the most of an early error from the home side to immediately build some pressure, forcing a goal-line dropout with their first attacking set. The Falcons muscled up in defence though, turning the Hunters away from the restart and going straight on the attack themselves.
An early shift in yardage betrayed the Falcons’ intentions in this one and also helped them to a 50+ metre yardage gain from their own line. Fullback Luke Polselli came close to icing the passage under the posts but for a desperate try saving tackle from Sakias Komati to drag him down just inches short.
That fiery exchange of attacking actions set the tone for a free flowing contest, as both sides traded shots with the ball in hand.
The Hunters adopted their trademark bash-and-crash approach in yardage, pouring through the middle to find easy metres around the ruck. The Falcons in comparison pushed the ball to the edges as they worked upfield, looking to use their speed to get around the defence.
It was the Hunters who looked to be gaining ascendency in the early grind until an error early in the count gave the home side a cheap shot at the scoreboard. The Falcons made the most of that opportunity to score through Louis Geraghty in the ninth minute, despite a questionable decoy line from Falcons centre Kane Jackson in the lead up.
Refusing to lay down though, the Hunters fired right back.
Settling on the left tram line late in a yardage set, PNG moved the ball through Ila Alu and Mavoko to Morea Morea on the right edge.
Sweeping around the third layer of the shift, Morea straightened on his run before skipping to the outside with a burst of speed, burning two Falcons defenders for pace and then skinning the fullback to score beside the posts.
Mavoko’s successful conversion gave the Hunters a two-point lead after 15 minutes.
After a fast start, the scoring opportunities quickly dried up as both sides fought for attacking field position.
Eventually, some ill-discipline from the home side allowed the Hunters to kick downfield and the visitors capitalised on their field position to extend the lead.
A scything left-edge movement through Junior Igila stretched the Falcons defence to one side before Komati directed the attack back through the middle. Some footwork and a left-hand fend engaged two defenders in the line before the wily five-eighth flicked an offload away to Tommy Moide in support.
The big middle-forward showed wonderful acceleration and strength from there, brushing aside three would-be tacklers to score beside the right upright.
Staring down an eight-point deficit heading into halftime, the Falcons made the most of another 50/50 call in their favour to enjoy back-to-back sets on PNG’s try line.
The Hunters couldn’t repel the home side when faced with so much defensive pressure, eventually cracking when Wyatt Reynolds barged over beneath the black dot.
The Hunters took a 12-10 lead into the break following Reynolds’ try.
Both sides had early opportunities in the first half but were turned away by some desperate scramble defence at both ends of the field.
Barnstorming backrower Julius Yakopa wasn’t to be denied though, steaming onto a lovely short ball from his halfback to get one-on-one with a smaller defender in the line.
Yakopa brushed aside that attempted tackle to break into the backfield and carry the fullback over the line to score. Mavoko’s conversion gave the Hunters an 18-10 lead after 45 minutes played.
As fatigue set in and the clock slowly crept towards fulltime, the Falcons and Hunters embraced the grind and fought for momentum in yardage.
Errors and ill-discipline from both sides produced a stop-and-start contest midway through the second half, and it was the Hunters who looked best under these conditions. They defended smartly on the edges, sticking to their systems and herding the Falcons’ expansive attack towards the sidelines.
With the ball in hand, the Hunters consistently won individual match ups across the park and it was only a matter of time before they found more points.
Staying patient, the Hunters set up camp on Sunshine Coast’s tryline thanks to the work of Jamie Mavoko on fifth tackle. Producing a perfect touch with his boot, Mavoko forced back-to-back drop outs from the Falcons as the Hunters piled on the pressure.
Eventually that pressure told when Morea zigged and zagged across the defensive line looking for a gap, suddenly exploding to life to poke through the line and get an offload away to Trevor Solu in support.
Morea’s incredible try assist summed up the difference between the two sides on Sunday afternoon.
Both the Falcons and Hunters were competitive in yardage and created plenty of attacking opportunities for themselves, but it was the Hunters individual stars who stood up and owned the little moments.
Sure enough, Komati and Rodrick Tai – two of the Hunters best attacking players – produced another special scoring action for Solo Wane in the dying minutes.
Running the ball on the last, Komati skipped around the kick pressure to pass Epel Kapinias into half a space on the edge. Kapinias showed great strength and vision to get a late offload away to Tai, who burned the cover defence before flicking a back-handed pass to Wane on the paint.
Wane blistering pace and strength through contest finished the play from there, but he wouldn’t have the final word.
Trevor Solu was over in the Hunters very next set, going the length from the kickoff through Komati and Benji Kot on the left edge this time.
A slick cut-out pass from Kot sent winger Brandon Nima down the touchline midway through the set, before Nima kicked back infield into space around the Falcons fullback. It was Solu though who would win the race to the ball, kicking a second time for himself and diving over in the in-goal.
Solu converted his own try to give the Hunters a resounding 34-10 lead at fulltime, capping off the Hunters best performance of the season and elevating them to 10th position on the Hostplus Cup ladder and just two wins shy of a finals berth.
SP PNG Hunters 34 def. Sunshine Coast Falcons 10
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