The SP PNG Hunters return to the Santos National Football Stadium this Saturday, 5th August to host the Redcliffe Dolphins in Round 20 of the QRL Hostplus Cup. Kickoff is at 3pm.
Saturday’s game will mark two weeks to the day since the Hunters last played at the spiritual home of rugby league in Papua New Guinea, having observed a bye in Round 18 before meeting the Brisbane Tigers at Totally Workwear Stadium last week.
The Tigers proved too good in that most recent contest, despite the Hunters running out to an early lead.
Tries to Rodrick Tai and Solo Wane gave the Hunters a 12-0 lead after 11 minutes played, but the Tigers showed great resilience to fight back under pressure. Ill-discipline proved to be the Hunters undoing in that loss, as penalties and sinbins hamstrung the PNG-based side in the second half.
There are positives to take from that loss to the Tigers, though.
As they’ve done all season, the Hunters continued to show the improvements they’ve made under Head Coach Stanley Tepend this year.
Halfback Jamie Mavoko – playing in just his 24th Hostplus Cup game last week – had a hand in a number of positive actions as he grows in confidence at this level. And Judah Rimbu – plying his trade at dummy-half as he transitions into the starting hooker role – also impressed with his workrate and service around the ruck.
In the outside backs, Tai was his usual dynamic attacking self with one try, one assist and 16 tackles for just one miss while his centre partner Brandon Nima was also busy, posting 127 running metres from nine carries in yardage.
The Hunters did everything right in the opening quarter last week and only need to replicate those efforts to be a chance against the 4th placed Redcliffe Dolphins on Saturday.
The Dolphins are in a purple patch of form of late, having registered convincing wins over the Tweed Seagulls and Burleigh Bears in recent weeks.
Fullback Trai Fuller was in inspired form for both of those wins, but mightn’t feature this weekend as he prepares for a potential NRL-debut for The Dolphins.
Even if Fuller doesn’t run out for the Dolphins Hostplus Cup side this weekend, the Redcliffe-based club will still field an established and dangerous outfit. Players like Robert Jennings, Mason Teague, Poasa Faamausili and Harrison Graham will all give Redcliffe NRL experience when they run out on Saturday afternoon.
The last time these two clubs met was in Round 9 last year, when the Hunters were still based out of the Gold Coast and playing at Bycroft Oval, Runaway Bay.
Redcliffe ran away 30-16 winners in that contest, but they will field a very different looking side this Saturday.
With a finals berth still just in reach, the Hunters must respond this weekend. No doubt a full crowd at the Santos National Football Stadium will inspire their best efforts and help the Hunters finish the regular season on a high.
Player to Watch
The SP PNG Hunters strength has always been in their forward pack, and this year is no different.
Skipper Ila Alu has led from the front all season, averaging a career-best 126 running metres per game to go with 335 tackles at a 92.8% efficiency rate. Alu has endured a number of injury-disrupted seasons but is relishing the opportunity to string multiple games together in 2023.
He’s not having to do it all on his own this time around, though.
Epel Kapinias – who returned to the Hunters this season after playing for the Wynnum-Manly Seagulls in 2022 – has been one of the Hunters most consistent performers in the forward pack this year.
Playing in every single game of the 2023 campaign so far, Kapinias has spotted up on an edge at times while the Hunters navigated the absence of Sherwin Tanabi and Benji Kot, but he is undoubtedly at his best in the middle of the field.
Against the Tigers last week, Kapinias was one of the Hunters strongest performers on both sides of the ball.
The big prop took 12 carries for 141 metres (61 post-contact), busting two tackles and also offering a pass option around the ruck. Without the ball, Kapinias made 24 crunching tackles for no misses to consistently stop the Tigers runners in their tracks.
His ability to bend the line with a strong carry or slow his opponents’ momentum with a big tackle has been invaluable for the Hunters this season. And as he develops his passing game, Kapinias is learning how to isolate teammates onto specific defenders for positive involvements in yardage.
Still just 25 years old, Kapinias’ best footy is ahead of him. He’s performed with wonderful consistency throughout this campaign and will be integral to the Hunters late-season push for the finals.
1. Morea Morea
2. Siki Konden
3. Brandon Nima
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. Whallan Tau-Loi
13. Ila Alu (c)
14. Warren Glare
15. Seal Kalo
16. Casey Dickson
17. Valentine Richard
18. Sanny Wabo
19. Joshua Mire