The SP PNG Hunters recent run of form continued in Round 16 of the QRL Hostplus Cup, besting the Central Queensland Capras to a grinding 14-8 result at the Santos National Football Stadium.
The heaving home crowd was treating to a stop-and-start contest to begin the match on Saturday afternoon as both sides traded blows in yardage.
The Capras discipline was poor in the early stages, conceding penalties for dissent and making unforced errors to give the Hunters the advantage in the territory battle.
PNG fullback Morea Morea was everywhere in the opening quarter of the match, providing great energy and intent on both sides of the ball. He almost scored off a clever Jamie Mavoko grubber kick in the Hunters first attacking set, before then making a crucial stop on a runaway Trey Brown down the other end of the field.
Both sides were far from perfect in their completions to open the contest but it was the Hunters who looked best when they held the ball. They dominated field position courtesy of their hard running forwards and applied pressure to the Capras line until it eventually told.
After some promising actions down both edges through Benji Kot and debutant Whallan Tau-Loi, the Hunters straightened things up to score first through Judah Rimbu.
Spotting the Capras defence was slow to reform around the ruck, Rimbu made the most of a quick play the ball to scoot from dummy-half and crash over the line.
Some bruising defence from PNG’s middle forwards soon earned the Hunters another attacking opportunity, forcing an error from the Capras in yardage.
A promising left edge movement through Sakias Komati and Morea drew a penalty when the Capras defence was caught offside, and the Hunters happily set up camp on the visitors try line. Ila Alu came close under the posts in the following set before Kot almost busted through on the left edge, but the Capras defence held firm on this occasion to repel the Hunters attack.
As half time approached, a poor kicking game from the Central Queensland halves continued to undo all their positive work in defence. Aaron Moore and Jack Madden sent a few over the touchline and the rest down the throat of the Hunters back three, restricting their gains in the yardage battle.
Some ill-discipline from the Hunters finally gave the visitors an attacking set, but as has been the case over the last few weeks, PNG’s defensive systems held. The Hunters slid effectively from edge to edge and Morea was a reliable presence at the back, coming up with a number of big defensive plays for his team.
Taking confidence from their defence, the Hunters immediately went on the counter-attack, playing to a blueprint that has proven highly effective at times this season.
Crashing through the middle with consecutive one-off carries to get the defence retreating, the Hunters built some momentum within the set, eventually winning a quick play-the-ball through Henry Wan Noki.
Identifying the opportunity, Rimbu and Komati pounced.
Komati used great deception to thread a grubber kick back in behind the ruck where Morea and Sanny Wabo were waiting in support. A deflection off the cover defence favoured the Hunters when the ball landed in the hands of Wabo, who wrestled his way over the line to score.
Wabo’s try gave the Hunters a 10-0 lead going into the sheds.
Tempers flared in the opening exchanges of the second half as both sides fought for ascendency.
Again, the Hunters looked the better side when they held the ball, but back-to-back errors and penalties soon gifted Central Queensland some early field position.
Capras veteran hooker Brown made the most of that chance to barge over from dummy-half in the 49th minute but he couldn’t convert his own four pointer, leaving the scores at 10-4 in favour of the Hunters.
As fatigue crept into the contest, PNG enjoyed wonderful contributions from their bench players. Trevor Solu, Seal Kalo, Wabo and Wan Noki all made their presence felt as the Hunters fought to wrestle back the momentum.
Solu took some smart carries from dummy half to get his team out of trouble while Kalo and Wan Noki ensured the Hunters lost none of their momentum when Junior Rop and Ila Alu left the field. That rotation proved invaluable for the Hunters when Rop was forced from the field midway through the second half with concussion.
Despite enjoying the weight of possession and field position, the Hunters couldn’t stop the flow as the Capras continued their second half resurgence. They sent a number of shapes through Madden on their right edge, eventually finding points when Cooper Marshall got a clever offload away for winger Brandon Roberts to score in the corner.
With PNG’s lead reduced to just two points, both sides lifted their intensity and embraced the grind. The Hunters and Capras went set for set as the clock ticked over, waiting for the other to blink and make a mistake.
That mistake eventually came from Capras winger Roberts, fumbling a towering Komati bomb to give the Hunters a shot at his own line.
Three tackles later and backrower Benji Kot fired that shot; steaming onto a Komati short-ball to beat the sliding defence and slam the ball down in the in-goal.
That try summed up the difference between the two sides on Saturday afternoon.
Both the Hunters and Capras had their moments but it was the home side who made the most of their momentum and field position to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
Most pleasing for the Hunters though was their ability to back up their attacking efforts with a compelling defensive display.
They absorbed a mountain of pressure on their own line in both halves, keeping their composure to turn the Capras away. The edges worked smartly in unison to herd the Capras attack towards the sidelines, and the middle muscled up around the ruck to repeatedly turn the visitors away.
Another tough match awaits the Hunters next weekend at the Santos National Football Stadium, with a contest against the ladder-leading Burleigh Bears in Round 17 of the QRL Hostplus Cup.
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SP PNG Hunters 14 def. Central Queensland Capras 8