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The stakes will be high at Bishop Park on Saturday, 19th August when the SP PNG Hunters face the Norths Devils in Round 22 of the QRL Hostplus Cup. Kickoff is at 3:00pm.

Both the Devils and the Hunters are part of a cluster of teams just outside the top eight with one round remaining, and both sides will be desperate to finish their 2023 campaign on a high.

The Hunters are well positioned to do just that, having produced some of their best performances of the season over the last two months.

The scalps of finals-bound clubs Tweed Seagulls, Central Queensland Capras and Redcliffe Dolphins sit snugly in the pocket of the SP PNG Hunters who’ve truly turned a corner throughout their 2023 campaign.

Under the watchful eye of Head Coach Stanley Tepend, the Hunters have learned to play to their strengths this season and find some consistency across – and throughout – their performances.

Key to this has been the contributions of the Hunters senior players and spine members.

Hunters captain Ila Alu has enjoyed a career-season after overcoming an injury in Round 11. The workhorse lock-forward is averaging a team-high 128 running metres per game and is a reliable clean up merchant in defence.

Forwards Junior Rop, Epel Kapinias and Benji Kot have also capitalised on injury-free years to be some of the Hunters most reliable in the pack.

It’s in the spine though where the Hunters have most improved this season.

Halfback Jamie Mavoko has been a mainstay in the side after struggling for consistency in 2022. As he grows more comfortable and confident at QRL level, Mavoko is showing the influence he can have on this team.

Mavoko has been well supported by rookie sensation Morea Morea, who has given the Hunters a level of class in the backline that they haven’t enjoyed in previous years. And around the ruck, Judah Rimbu’s transition from utility to starting dummy-half has seen the young playmaker take his game to new heights in 2023.

Tepend has cycled a few faces through the No.6 jumper this year and has a wealth of depth in the position. Sakias Komati, Joshua Mire and Joshua Lau all impressed with their first taste of the Hostplus Cup and provide competition for spots in a fiercely contested squad.

While a finals berth is out of reach this season, the Hunters have shown enough to be considered genuine finalist contenders next year with another whole pre-season training together.

They have one last chance to impress this Saturday against the Norths Devils who will be desperate to make atones for a disappointing 2023 campaign.

The Devils haven’t tasted victory since a Round 19 win over the last placed Ipswich Jets, having fallen short to the Western Clydesdales and Sunshine Coast Falcons in the last fortnight.

They will have plenty to play for on Saturday however, in what will be clubman Jack Ahearn’s last game for Norths in the Hostplus Cup.

Player to Watch

Right centre Rodrick Tai has arguably been the Hunters best this year on the back of a full preseason with The Dolphins NRL squad.

Tai is relishing the added experience and responsibility for the Hunters in 2023, embracing his role as their strike attacking player and coming up with a number of special defensive plays, too.

Against the Blackhawks last week, Tai made multiple important reads from the centres to jam in and shut the attack down. Centre is one of the most difficult defensive positions on the field and Tai is developing smartly in this area of his game.

It’s with the ball in hand though that Tai pulls away from the pack.

He’s ranked ninth across the entire QRL competition for total tackle busts (73) and seventh for post-contact metres – testament to Tai’s ability to skittle defenders and drive his legs through contact.

With eight tries and seven assists from 18 appearances this season, Tai’s greatest attacking quality is turning half chances into points.

If he’s not fending away a defender on his way to the try line, Tai can be seen beating his opposite man, drawing in the winger and flicking a pass away to Solo Wane on the paint.

It’s these kinds of repeatable attacking actions that make Tai such an important member of the Hunters 2023 squad, and he’ll need to be at his best again on Saturday if the Hunters are to finish their season on a high.

Team List

  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. Wesser Tenza
  19. Sakias Komati
  20. Tommy Moide

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Papua New Guinea's team participating in the Queensland Hostplus Cup

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2022 Hostplus Cup