Skip to main content

One of the 2024 QRL competition heavyweights showcased all their class and experience to best a brave Papua New Guinea Hunters outfit in Round 7 of the Hostplus Cup. 

With over 450 games of QRL experience in their spine alone, the Burleigh Bears were clinical at times on Saturday afternoon to slowly pile on the points thanks to the lion’s share of possession and field position at UAA Park on the Gold Coast. A perfect night from the tee for Bears five-eighth Josh Rogers only added to the equation for the home side as they flexed their muscles in the 48-24 win.

Despite the end result however, there were plenty of positives for the PNG Hunters to consider as they continue to improve under Head Coach Paul Aiton. 

Defensively, the Hunters systems were resilient under pressure to repel an expansive Bears attack that spent most of the game in PNG’s half. And in limited opportunities with the ball themselves, a comparatively inexperienced Hunters spine impressed to construct a number of positive and repeatable scoring actions. 

The Bears started fast on Saturday afternoon, running with a wicked breeze behind them and shifting the ball through their familiar halves combination of Rogers and Guy Hamilton to find metres on the edges. 

PNG’s defensive systems held firm for the most part, sliding effectively to herd Burleigh towards the sideline but conceding early metres as the home side poured into attacking field position. With a touch of class, Hamilton summed things up smartly from there to drop a pinpoint kick into the backfield and win a wicked bounce for Hayden Schwass to score first points. 

Responding with their defence, the Hunters charged off their line in unison to flip the momentum and force an error in Burleigh’s next possession. That effort slowed the game into a grind and it was the Hunters who most impressed with their ability to stay disciplined and within their systems despite the early scoreboard pressure. 

It wasn’t long before the visitors were again asked to defend their own line. As they have done all season though, PNG’s defence made their opposition work hard to find points. It would take an expansive and near-perfect Burleigh attack three consecutive sets on the Hunters line before hulking front-rower Bailey Butler finally crashed over beside the posts, giving the Bears a 12-0 lead.

With almost all the ball inside the opening quarter, the combinations in Burleigh’s spine were simply enjoying too many opportunities in attack. The Hunters were defending desperately and effectively under pressure, forcing the Bears to fire multiple shots on either edge before landing the winning blow. The territorial dominance eventually took its toll however when Ethan O’Neill finished off a sweeping backline movement on the left tram line. 

Brave and somewhat unlucky to be down 18-points early on, the Hunters answered back to strike with ruthless efficiency and score through Brandon Nima in their first opportunity.  

Brilliant service from hooker Judah Rimbu – who battled serious illness all week to be one of the Hunters best in QRL Round 7 – allowed five-eighth Joshua Lau to get wide of the ruck and create the numbers advantage with some clever playmaking. Using his footwork to straighten the attack, Lau engaged the right defender in the line before linking with Benji Kot to send Nima into the in-goal untouched. 

Back in the game at 18-4, the Hunters enjoyed great contributions from bench players Weiyah Koi and Alex Max to generate some momentum around the ruck. 

With Rimbu picking the right moments to pass or run and halves Lau and Jamie Mavoko playing to a plan on the ball, PNG quickly earned another chance in attack when Lau forced a goal-line dropout with a nicely weighted grubber kick. Burleigh’s defence withstood the test on this occasion however, before the home side then capitalised on a yardage penalty – and a friendly bounce – to score again through Josiah Karapani before halftime. 

Despite the lopsided scoreboard the Hunters continued to show patches of brilliance on both sides of the ball. Their direct approach in attack was injecting fatigue into Burleigh’s pack while their defensive systems forced the Bears to truly earn their points in good-ball. 

It took some ballplaying brilliance from an in-form Rogers to punish even the slightest breakdowns in the Hunters defence, eventually slicing through himself and then passing Nicholas O’Meley in to ensure the home side started the second half like they did the first. 

Regardless of the uphill battle ahead of them and with fatigue setting in, this brave Hunters squad simply refused to go away. 

Veteran winger Nima used his experience to win a yardage penalty for his team and slowly turn the momentum, while the injection of Jordan Pat and Joshua Mire through the middle made a notable difference to PNG’s ruckspeed. With Lau and Rimbu sticking to the plan and targeting Burleigh’s middle, the Hunters dummy-half finally darted over himself in the 56th minute for a well deserved four-pointer.

Solo Wane was next to score for the resurgent Hunters in what was a pleasing sight for the PNG fans back home in Port Moresby. The fan favourite got a chance to open up in the backfield thanks to his defensive positioning off the ball; perfectly placing himself to pluck an intercept under pressure and burn the cover defence on his way to the line. 

A contentious knock-on call against Whallan Tau-Loi in the ensuing kickoff set shot down any hope of a miracle PNG comeback. The young backrower charged into the defence to get Burleigh retreating but was ruled to lose the ball in the tackle despite the apparent involvement of a Bears defender. 

A try to the home side through Charlie Murray five tackles later summed up the tale of the tape in QRL Round 7; blessed with the lion’s share of possession and field position, Burleigh simply enjoyed too much time attacking PNG’s line and if anything, credit must be given to the Hunters defence for forcing the Bears to repeatedly find alternate routes to the in-goal.

With the result already decided, the Hunters took their chances to finish with confidence and add some respect to the scoreboard. 

PNG’s direct plan with the ball paid dividends when Rimbu passed Pat in for his second try of the season, targeting Burleigh’s tiring forwards on consecutive tackles to create a half chance for the big prop to barge over.

Not done there, a dynamic left edge movement through Alex Max and Kot next broke the Burleigh defence from 40 metres out, finishing in the hands of fullback Sanny Wabo who supported well back on the inside. 

Wabo’s try should’ve seen PNG drag Burleigh’s lead back to a commendable three-score lead by full time, but it was the home side who enjoyed all the luck in QRL Round 7. An apparent knock on by Burleigh’s Mitch Watson was missed when the big winger fumbled a loose ball off the deck and passed Schwass into the in-goal as the siren sounded. The laser-focussed boot of Bears five-eighth Rogers converted from there to cap off a perfect eight-from-eight night for the veteran half. 

Ultimately, the competition-leading Burleigh Bears were deserving winners on Saturday afternoon and provided the Hunters with a stern test of their improvements under new Head Coach Aiton and his coaching staff. 

Down early by three converted tries, the Hunters of old might’ve gone away from their game plan and pushed the pass in search of points. Not this squad, though. Sticking to what they know, Aiton’s Hunters showed great discipline to play to their strengths through the middle of the field and promote fatigue into Burleigh’s pack. The points they created late in the second half were a result of the work PNG put into the Bears forwards throughout the contest and will give these young Hunters confidence in their systems, moving forward.

Although they didn’t get the result on this occasion, it’s more evidence that this SP PNG Hunters squad is tracking in the right direction and they’ll get another chance to show it next Sunday, 5th May when they meet the Townsville Blackhawks at Jack Manski Oval, Townsville in Round 8 of the QRL Hostplus Cup. 

Leave a Reply

2022 Hostplus Cup