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The SP PNG Hunters have claimed their second win of the 2024 QRL Hostplus Cup season, putting away the Sunshine Coast Falcons 22-10 with an emphatic defensive display on Saturday afternoon. 

The Port Moresby locals were witness to four well-constructed tries by the home side but it was the Hunters defensive efforts that had the crowd on their feet in Round 3. 

Despite spending long periods of the game on their own try line, the Papua New Guinean defence simply refused to give their opposition cheap avenues to the in-goal, restricting an experienced Falcons attack to just 10 points.

PNG Hunters Head Coach Paul Aiton commended the work his players did off the ball and the resilience they showed throughout the contest. 

“I thought we defended our line well at different stages,” said Aiton. 

“We stuck to our systems and scrambled well when we had to. The players are working really hard for each other and I think that showed in our intent off the ball today.”

The Hunters showed wonderful resilience after Solo Wane was sent to the bin in the process of making a desperate try saving tackle. Rather than cracking under the pressure, PNG overcame the early adversity to force an error with their defence just a few tackles later.

The Hunters ability to produce repeat efforts off the ball and defend errors or penalties is a telling sign of their development this season. 

“Discipline and errors has been our focus to start the year and I think Saturday showed we’re trending in the right direction,” said Aiton. 

“We tidied up a lot of the penalties that hurt us last week and although we still made too many errors, it’s encouraging for the boys to know that we can defend them.”

While it was PNG’s defensive efforts that banked the two points in QRL Hostplus Cup Round 3, this evolving Hunters attack also had its moments. 

With halfback Jamie Mavoko and fullback Morea Morea still working their way back to full fitness, Joshua Lau and Sanny Wabo continue to impress in their elevated roles. These new combinations in the spine are allowing star five-eighth Sakias Komati to have positive involvements down the Hunters strike left edge. 

Komati’s ability to engage the defence with a lead runner before throwing out the back is what created the space for Brandon Nima to open the scoring on Saturday:

One channel wider, Hunters rookie centre Clent Lama is enjoying a fast-start to life in the Hostplus Cup and is relishing the experience of Nima on his outside. This pair have struck up a likely combination to kickoff the season and were quickly involved in the Hunters next scoring action in Round 3. 

Another debutant of the 2024 QRL season – Hunters backrower Robert Mathias – was the catalyst on this occasion, taking possession down the left edge in yardage and burning the Falcons defence with an impressive show of speed. The dynamic edge forward made his own luck from there, getting a miracle offload away to Nima to streak down the touchline. 

The veteran winger still had plenty of work to do in the backfield, showing his class to draw in both the fullback and the cover defence before releasing a beautiful pass back inside for his centre to score. 

As they’ve made a habit of doing already this year, the Hunters went back on the attack right from the kickoff. 

With some momentum generated through the middle to begin the kickoff set, PNG quickly swung it left through their star five-eighth. With his trademark show-and-go, Komati fooled the defence to get his arm free and find Mathias in support with a lovely short ball. 

The barnstorming backrower again showed off his speed to burn the fullback and complete a length of the field effort from the home side.

“I’m really happy for Robert (Mathias) to win our Man of the Match today,” Aiton said. 

“He’s working hard with Saki (Komati) on that left edge and getting some reward for effort which is pleasing for him. Clent (Lama) is doing a good job with (Brandon) Nima out there on that edge too and they’ll keep working on those combinations.”

“We’ve still got plenty of work to do but it’s great to see these younger guys step up and take their opportunities.”

A barge-over try to veteran PNG forward Valentine Richard in the 78th minute put to bed any hopes of a late Falcons comeback as the Sunshine Coast defence crumbled around the ruck.

The Hunters ultimately did what the visitors could not; turning field position and pressure into points to secure a brave 22-10 point win. 

With the QRL competition now breaking for the Easter Weekend, Aiton has ensured the entire Hunters squad has prepared accordingly. Players who didn’t feature in the Hostplus Cup team this weekend played in a trial match against Gulf Isou where they clocked a resounding 46-0 win. 

“Our ‘Warriors’ team played a trial against Gulf Isou on the weekend which was a good opportunity for our squad players to get some match fitness in and keep working on their craft,” said Aiton. 

“This whole Hunters squad is really hungry to improve and it’s good to have guys competing for positions and pushing each other to get better.”

The Hunt resumes in QRL Round 4 when the SP PNG Hunters travel to Piggabeen Sports Complex to face the Tweed Seagulls on Saturday, 6th April at 5:00pm. 

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2022 Hostplus Cup