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It’s been almost three weeks since we last saw the SP PNG Hunters in action, following a bye in Round 18 and a break in the QRL Hostplus Cup competition last weekend.

Despite this, the Hunters have been working hard to maintain the momentum they built over their last five fixtures. The proud PNG-based club will look to return to the winner’s circle when they face the Brisbane Tigers on Sunday, 30th July at Totally Workwear Stadium, Brisbane. Kickoff is at 2:10pm.

The Hunters have steadily improved throughout the 2023 season to sit in 11th position on the Hostplus Cup ladder with four rounds remaining. They picked up a few wins early in the season against lesser opposition but it wasn’t until midway through the year that the Hunters truly found their form.

A run of games on home soil at the Santos National Football Stadium saw the Hunters catapult themselves up the QRL ladder, with big wins over finals-bound clubs Tweed Seagulls, Sunshine Coast Falcons and Central Queensland Capras.

The Hunters found a winning formula during that period and now have the gameplan to challenge the top teams in the competition. By powering through the middle and compressing the defence around the ruck, the Hunters are now consistently building towards scoring actions on the edges.

Halfback Jamie Mavoko – playing in just his second season in the QRL Hostplus Cup – and fellow rookie five-eighth Sakias Komati have combined smartly this season to bring the Hunters strike outside backs into the game.

Rodrick Tai, Solo Wane, Brandon Nima, Junior Igila and fullback sensation Morea Morea have all been afforded opportunities to positively impact results thanks to the work of their forward pack and spine players.

Throughout the season, the Hunters have also enjoyed excellent contributions from some lesser known or established players. The likes of Joshua Mire, Joshua Lau, Whallan Tau-Loi, Tommy Moide and Trevor Solu have all risen to the challenge this year and given this Hunters squad a depth they’ve not had in previous seasons.

This new-and-improved Hunters side face a stern test this Sunday with the fifth placed Brisbane Tigers waiting for them at Totally Workwear Stadium.

The game will have plenty of feel about it, with Tigers Head Coach Matt Church coming up against his former side for the second time this year.

These two clubs last met in Round 3 earlier this season, when Church’s Tigers snuck away with a two-point victory. No doubt the Hunters will be desperate to make amends for that narrow loss this weekend.

The Tigers will also be hungry when they take the field on Sunday, having suffered a heavy defeat to the Tweed Seagulls in Round 18. That loss to Tweed arrested a three-game winning streak for the Tigers, who have scored three tries or more in every match going back to Round 7.

The Tigers are one of the better attacking teams in the competition with NRL-quality players littered across their lineup. The likes of Corey Thompson, George Jennings, Ryley Jacks and Kane Bradley will give the Tigers a wealth of experience and attacking talent on Sunday afternoon.

Player to Watch

SP PNG Hunters captain Ila Alu has been in inspired form since returning from injury in Round 14.

As one of the club’s most experienced campaigners, the Hunters are a much-improved outfit with Alu on the field. He has a good feel for the game and offers invaluable leadership and direction on both sides of the ball.

Alu can be often seen offering the extra number in a tackle or plugging a hole in the line back on the inside. He’s got a wonderful work ethic and often tops the tackle count for his team.

Alu’s defensive efforts show in the numbers, too. In the last six games, Alu has contributed a total 144 tackles and missed just six. With a season-whole tackle efficiency of 93%, Alu is one of the Hunters most consistent defensive performers.

It’s with the ball in hand though that Alu has made his presence most felt, since returning from injury four weeks ago. His last four yardage returns read very nicely; 126m v Magpies, 177m v Falcons, 169m v Capras and 135m v Bears.

With an average 151 running metres per game in the last month, Alu is putting the team on his back and carrying them downhill. He’s bending the line in yardage (average 54 post-contact metres) and generating quick play-the-balls in good-ball, which are leading to points.

Against a hardened and experienced Tigers forward pack this weekend, the Hunters will need Alu at his barnstorming, tackling best if they’re to win any field position and generate points.

Team List

1. Morea Morea

2. Brandon Nima

3. Junior Igila

4. Rodrick Tai

5. Solo Wane

6. Joshua Lau

7. Jamie Mavoko

8. Junior Rop

9. Judah Rimbu

10. Epel Kapinias

11. Benji Kot

12. Julius Yakopa

13. Ila Alu (c)

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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2022 Hostplus Cup