Riding high with three wins from their last four games, the SP PNG Hunters will return to the Santos National Football Stadium this Saturday, 8th July to host the Burleigh Bears in Round 17 of the QRL Hostplus Cup. Kickoff is at 3pm.
After navigating a difficult start to the year, the Hunters have been back to their best over the last month. The fruits of a challenging preseason are starting to bear fruit as Stanley Tepend’s men work their way through the 2023 regular season, building on their combinations and growing in confidence each week.
For the bulk of this current Hunters squad, this is only their first or second year in the Hostplus Cup competition and some growing pains must be expected with such raw talent. As they make the step up from Digicel Cup into the QRL competition though, these young Hunters are showing they’re up for the challenge.
In recent weeks, the likes of Joshua Mire, Joshua Lau, Trevor Solu, Seal Kalo and Whallan Tau-Loi have all risen to the occasion and impressed with their ability to fill a void at this level. With such a long and gruelling season, the best clubs are those with good depth and this Hunters squad can consider itself amoung that group in 2023.
With five games left in the regular season and an uphill battle before them into the top eight, the Hunters will once again look to defy the odds when they host the ladder-leading Burleigh Bears on Saturday afternoon.
The Hunters are no strangers to the underdog tag, having faced – and overcome – some far more fancied opposition in recent weeks.
Against the Tweed Seagulls in Round 12, the Sunshine Coast Falcons in Round 15 and the Central Queensland Capras last week, the Hunters rose to the occasion and claimed the two points on offer despite the lofty ladder position of their opponents.
In those games, the Hunters defensive resilience and discipline kept them in the contest and in a position to win it late. The points piled up against the Seagulls and Falcons in a reminder of the Hunters attacking skill, but against the Capras last week it was a grind right down until the final sets.
The Hunters defence will take plenty of confidence out of their latest win, having conceded just eight points against a Capras attack that averages 23.4 points per game this season.
If they can hold their own around the ruck and work in unison on the edges again this weekend, the Hunters will give themselves every chance of claiming another big scalp in their 2023 campaign.
The Burleigh Bears won’t make it easy for them though, having played 15 rounds for the best defensive record in the competition at time of writing.
Allowing their opposition just 17.3 points per game on average, the Bears employ a patient and grinding gameplan designed to wear their opponent down.
Led by QRL veteran halfback Guy Hamilton and boasting a wealth of NRL-contracted talent, the Bears are currently equal first on the Hostplus Cup ladder, tied with the Souths Logan Magpies with 11 wins apiece.
They were out of the winners circle last week though, bested by the Falcons in an upset result on the Gold Coast.
The Bears will be desperate to return to their winning ways and enjoy a good historical record against the Hunters, having beaten them most recently in Round 6 this season.
It’s the Hunters who will enjoy the home ground advantage this time around though, in what is sure to be a fiery and competitive contest at the Santos National Football Stadium.
Player to Watch
Sakias Komati returned to the side last week to stamp his claim once again on the No.6 jersey.
The skilful five-eighth was a constant presence on the Hunters left edge in Round 16, offering a genuine running threat in yardage and good-ball while also controlling the bulk of the general play kicking.
With 204 kick metres from 10 attempts, Komati’s boot was integral to the Hunters winning the territorial battle against the Capras last weekend.
Where Komati is most dangerous though is in a ballplaying role in attacking field position.
His speed and footwork allows Komati to skip to the outside of a defender and create the overlap out wide. The pressure he puts on edge defenders when dancing across field forces them into a decision and when they make one, he can punish it.
Capable of throwing long to his centre or playing short to Benji Kot – as he did for the match-sealing try last weekend – in the backrow, Komati can hurt the defence in a variety of ways which is what makes him so dangerous.
If the defence numbers up on Komati, his halves partner Jamie Mavoko and fullback Morea Morea have shown they can take advantage of the spaces on the far side of the field. So too Judah Rimbu from behind the ruck, who is taking his chances to run on the back of quick play-the-balls.
The Hunters attack is still a work in progress but there have been genuine signs of improvement this season. The spine are combining effectively and it looks like they now know what their strengths are and how to play to them.
There is no better test for the Hunters improved attack than against the ladder-leading Bears on Saturday, 8th July.
Tickets are on sale now at all TiketMastas outlets – get yours now and come Join in the Hunt at the Santos National Football Stadium.
SP PNG Hunters Head Coach Stanley Tepend was delighted with last week’s performance and is eager to host the Burleigh Bears on Saturday.
“We’re all really looking forward to the challenge,” said Tepend.
“We’ve been good the last few weeks and it’s a great test for us to go up against one of the competition heavyweights. They got the best of us earlier in the season and we’re excited for the chance to get some payback on home soil this weekend.”
Tepend paid tribute to his team’s improvements over the last few weeks and is excited for what lies ahead.
“I think the boys have done well to embrace the grind over the last few weeks,” Tepend said.
“We’re playing with more resilience and are keeping calm and composed under pressure. It’s been good to see the players working together on and off the field, sticking to our systems and maintaining our discipline.”
“We’re not training or playing any harder, we’re just doing everything with more smarts and awareness. The boys are starting to get a better understanding of what works for us and what’s required at this level.”
“The Bears will be a great challenge for us this weekend.”
1. Morea Morea
2. Brandon Nima
3. Junior Igila
4. Rodrick Tai
5. Solo Wane
6. Sakias Komati
7. Jamie Mavoko
8. Epel Kapinias
9. Judah Rimbu
11. Benji Kot
12. Whallan Tau-Loi
13. Ila Alu
14. Trevor Solu
15. Sanny Wabo
16. Casey Dickson
17. Henry Wan Noki
18. Matthew Jesse
19. Tommy Moide
20. Julius Yakopa
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