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The Redcliffe Dolphins delivered an ominous warning to the QRL competition on Saturday afternoon, producing a near-perfect second half to run away 39-20 winners over a brave SP PNG Hunters outfit in Round 6 of the Hostplus Cup. 

Despite currently sitting in second place on the QRL ladder, the Dolphins are undoubtedly the form team in the competition right now with five wins from their first six games and only a bye separating them from the ladder-leading Mackay Cutters. 

Boasting an attack that averages close to 30 points per game, the Dolphins soaked up some early scoreboard pressure themselves on Saturday afternoon before roaring to life after the break to deliver the Hunters their first loss on home soil this year. A hefty injury toll worked against the Hunters in the second half as they simply ran out of gas in the face of a fresh and fully fit Dolphins outfit in this one. 

An early try to Redcliffe halfback Joshua James set the tone for a high-scoring affair in QRL Round 6 as the Dolphins left edge attack sliced through in good-ball to register first points. 

The proud Papua New Guinean-based side quickly answered back though, and it was the Hunters own halfback who put himself in the box seat.

Jamie Mavoko – playing in his first game of the year since recovering from a serious illness – had some nice touches in his return to notch two try involvements in the opening forty minutes. 

Capitalising on the work of his teammates closer to the ruck, Mavoko showed nice vision and footwork to score the Hunters first points of the afternoon beside the uprights. Identifying a fatiguing Redcliffe middle-third, Mavoko played to a plan and looked outwards before turning back in towards the posts and testing the visitors through the middle to find an easy route to the try line. 

That plan paid dividends for Mavoko to score his first of the season and the Hunters showed good composure and awareness to go back to the well for their second try just minutes later. 

It was Mavoko’s halves partner Joshua Lau who triggered the home side’s next scoring action, dropping veteran winger Brandon Nima back against the grain to again test the Dolphins middle in defence.

Currently enjoying a career-year out on the left wing, Nima’s contributions in yardage and good-ball have been a major point of difference for the Hunters in season 2024. His ability to generate ruck speed or bust tackles consistently gets the defence retreating and that’s exactly what he did in the lead up to Whallan Tau-Loi’s 26th minute try. 

Some nice ballplaying from Lau sent Nima carving through the Dolphins middle and into the backfield from near the halfway line. Rather than push the pass, Nima used all his experience to take the tackle, play the ball quickly and give his teammates a chance to ice the play. 

Mavoko and Tau-Loi did just that one tackle later; the former carrying the ball deep into the line and engaging the right defender before passing the latter into a yawning gap on the right edge. 

Having won themselves an early lead, the Hunters continued to impress within their attacking systems as Head Coach Paul Aiton had asked for in previous weeks. 

Again playing to familiar principles in the lead up to Lau’s own try, the Hunters five-eighth carried the ball nice and direct before bouncing overs and dropping backrower Benji Kot back underneath towards a tiring middle. With Dolphins defenders asked to make multiple decisions and movements under pressure in the line, the spaces began to open up around the ruck and Kot was able to win another quick play-the-ball for PNG to attack off. 

Just as Mavoko and Tau-Loi did a few minutes earlier, this time it was Lau who was the beneficiary of the Hunters plan in attack; plucking the ball up from dummy-half and burrowing over himself to give PNG a 14-6 lead. 

An opportunistic try to Dolphins winger Steven Numambo in the shadows of halftime reduced the Hunters lead to two-points at the break but it was clear that the home side were well and truly in the fight after forty minutes played.

As fatigue and injuries took their toll however, the competition heavyweights were gifted a chance to claw their way back in front.

Injuries to key players in the Hunters forward rotation (Alex Max, Valentine Richards, Jordan Pat and Koso Bandi all battled niggles in this contest) eventually proved too much for the PNG to handle while the Dolphins brought on fresh legs through the middle. It is no coincidence that the visitors scored four tries midway through the second half during a glut of possession and field position as the Hunters simply ran out of troops. 

A few 50/50 refereeing calls in the lead up to two Dolphins tries certainly compounded the issue for PNG who refused to make it easy for their opposition but were unable to match Redcliffe’s energy through the middle of the field with so many players watching from the sidelines.

Credit must also go to the Dolphins attack – which currently ranks second-best in the QRL competition – for making the most of their luck and taking their chances on Saturday afternoon. 

They produced a number of skilful, well-worked tries in the face of an exhausted PNG defensive line that couldn’t offer much inside pressure or line speed as their bench was reduced to just two players by full time. 

SP PNG Hunters Head Coach Paul Aiton was understandably disappointed with the result but was optimistic about what he saw before injuries took their toll. 

“It’s obviously a disappointing result,” said Aiton. 

“It’s disappointing not because we aren’t good enough – in fact it’s the opposite. We know we’ve got a quality footy side here but we are just letting a few results slip away at the moment.”

“Some of the footy we’re playing in patches is really encouraging at this stage of the season and if we continue to stick to those systems I’m confident we will start to get a few more results go our way.”

The Hunters second-half try to fullback Sanny ‘The Whizz Kid’ Wabo is a relevant example of what Aiton might be referring to here. 

Charging through the middle of the field and dropping players back underneath, the Hunters played to their strengths in the lead up to Wabo’s 47th minute try to inject fatigue into Redcliffe’s middle-third. 

Presented with a tiring defensive line, Hunters halfback Mavoko and his fullback played to the same principles as with PNG’s first three tries to attack back through the middle with a direct approach. Some lovely deception from Mavoko and the electric feet of Wabo was enough to find the in-goal from there. 

Aiton highlighted Mavoko’s contributions and was pleased to see his halfback make a successful return from illness. 

“We’re really happy for Jamie,” Aiton said. “He’s worked hard to get himself back into shape and he had some nice touches today considering he hasn’t played all year. He brought some nice control to our attack and those combinations will only improve with more time on the field.”

Aiton also touched on the Hunters improving discipline as another area of focus for PNG, moving forward. 

“We gave up one penalty in the first half and finished up with four in total,” Aiton noted. “We’ve been working really hard on our discipline and it’s pleasing to see the boys improve in that area.”

“We’ve still got to tidy up our errors but it’s been a disrupted start to the year [with a week off after Round 3 and then a bye in Round 5] and I feel like we’re trending in the right direction.”

“There’s still plenty of work to be done and we aren’t looking for any excuses,” Aiton reaffirmed. 

The SP PNG Hunters will travel to the Gold Coast this week to face the Burleigh Bears on Saturday, 27th April in Round 7 of the QRL Hostplus Cup. 

As always, the highly coveted Kokoda Cup will be on the line in that contest, making for what is always an emotional and physical battle at UAA Park. 

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