The SP PNG Hunters travelled to Totally Workwear Stadium to take on the Brisbane Tigers in Round 19 of the Hostplus Cup but couldn’t build on their early 12-0 lead, falling 32-18 after 80 minutes.
The favourable conditions presented a case for throwing the ball wide early and often but both sides looked for a quick play-the-ball in yardage through tight carries one off the ruck to start.
A poor end to a Tigers set ended with the Hunters hot on the attack and with the first real opportunity to produce points. With it, a hot potato sequence made up of nine passes in a single possession scrambled the defence line. Passing and offloading from right to left and left to right, a sweeping Morea Morea played Jamie Mavoko through a flimsy Ryley Jacks tackle before the halfback sent Rodrick Tai over for the opener.
Mavoko added the extras for the Hunters to build an early 6-0 lead that would soon double.
Max Lehmann found some success down the left wing as the Tigers worked out of their own end. Twice he managed to get on the outside of his man but a desperate pass back inside as the touchline threatened provided the Huners with another opportunity to attack the opposition line.
Joshua Lau’s footwork caused trouble before Mavoko’s grubber forced a repeat set. The Hunters looked to bash the door down with Junior Rop held up over the line but eventually found their points on the edges through Solo Wane. A sweeping Morea again featured as Tai’s quick hands beat the jamming defence to put Wane over for a 12-0 Hunters lead in the 13th minute.
A Tigers kickoff out on the full added to the Hunters’ wave of possession but an error while looking to attack down the left edge finally provided the Tigers with an opportunity to play themselves into the game.
With a chance of their own to attack the Hunters line the Tigers again looked in the direction of Lehmann but a superb solo effort from Wane put an end to a sure-try for the visitors to keep their 12-0 lead through the first quarter of the match.
Leivaha Pulu has proven to be a dangerous option close to the line but Julius Yakopa consistently had his number in defence. Yakopa ended one shift among many throughout a sustained period of Tigers attack but the Hunters defence held firm and turned the ball over 99 metres up the field on the following set.
The Hunters continued to build pressure by turning the ball over in the right parts of the field. That pressure forced loose passes from the Tigers as the home side desperately looked to flip the momentum.
A Cole Geyer linebreak through the middle again put the Tigers within striking distance but the Hunters right edge closed down one threatening action before the left forced another error.
An error in defence from Henry Wan Noki saw the veteran forward marched to the sin bin in the 36th minute in what proved to be a pivotal moment in the match. With the extra man, the Tigers went to where they’d found previous success and scored through Solomona Faataape down the left edge.
Despite starting strong and refusing to concede while the starting middle rotation rested on the bench, another late blemish saw the Hunters’ lead cut to eight by the break.
The Hunters started the second half with six minutes still to play with only 12 men but didn’t get through one before conceding again. Geyer spotted Lau late to the short side and targeted the five-eighth to crash over the line.
JJ Natapu led another strong Tigers yardage set up the field. The ten minutes down a man proved difficult for the Hunters to handle with the visitors at risk of giving up their lead while Wan Noki sat in the bin. But a seven-tackle set allowed the Hunters to travel deep into Tigers territory and force a repeat set of their own to ensure Wan Noki returned with his side still in front.
Back-to-back penalties out of yardage and another on the following set put the Hunters under more pressure. As if spending ten minutes with only 12 on the field didn’t put enough fatigue into the defence, providing the Tigers with extra opportunities only took more gas out of the tank.
Morea found enough in his legs to pull off an incredible try-saver in the corner, though. With George Jennings over the line and falling to the ground, a desperate Morea knocked the ball free for the Hunters to retain their lead.
What looked to be a strong yardage set in response ended with an error as the Hunters again gave up cheap field position to the Tigers. Another penalty kicked the Tigers further up the field and inside the Hunters’ 30-metre line. Finally, the pressure turned into points as Jennings made no mistake on his second crack at the line for the Tigers to take a 14-12 lead in the 57th minute.
With all of the running, the Tigers cruised into the final 20 minutes of the match 18-12 in front. Lehmann, who had been able to get to the outside a few times already throughout the match, did so for points as the Hunters short side couldn’t number up on the line.
A rare triple change for the Tigers spelled their intention after points. On top and with the lead, former Hunters coach Matt Church looked to keep his side moving forward while Stanley Tepend responded with the reintroduction of Rop and Alu.
Another Lehmann try and a third lifting penalty saw the Hunters chasing a 26-12 deficit heading into the final ten minutes.
Leaving no stone unturned, Alu went close to crashing over in the middle and Tai threw his opposite man away with the line in sight shortly after. But it was Benji Kot scoring his seventh try of the Hostplus Cup season who gave life to the idea of a late comeback.
Alu’s captain’s knock continued with two strong carries in three tackles as he finished with a team-high 180 metres. However, a clunky end to the set after points saw Alu’s effort go unrewarded before an 11th penalty conceded saw Corey Thompson and the Tigers put the game beyond doubt.
While the Hunters started well to build an early lead, the penalties added up and a team fighting for the Top 4 will make you pay sooner or later. The Hunters now prepare to take on the 4th-placed Redcliffe Dolphins at the Santos National Football Stadium in Round 20.
Brisbane Tigers 32 def. SP PNG Hunters 18
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