Skip to main content

The Hunt is well and truly on in season 2024 and a full house at the Santos National Football Stadium is expected this Saturday, 18th May when a resurgent SP PNG Hunters host the Ipswich Jets in Round 10 of the QRL Hostplus Cup. Kickoff is at 3:00pm. 

A difficult start to the regular season served as an invaluable lesson for this young Hunters squad, who have applied the learnings from each week to steadily improve across the opening nine rounds. Those improvements most recently culminated in a shut-out of the Blackhawks in Townsville two weeks ago before Papua New Guinea ambushed the competition-leading Northern Pride last Sunday. 

Last week’s performance was undoubtedly the Hunters most complete showing of the season. 

To respond with 30 unanswered points after conceding two early tries is testament to PNG’s improving resilience and discipline under Head Coach Paul Aiton this season. While they often give away years of experience to their Hostplus Cup opposition, these young Hunters are quickly learning the habits and systems required to win at QRL level. 

Most encouraging from that win was the Hunters ability to turn defence into attack. PNG’s defensive positioning and decision making on the edges was superb last week, forcing the Pride into errors or low-percentage plays with the ball. 

Tries to both Alex Max and Elijah Roltinga in that game came as a result of the Hunters much-improved defensive systems. You can see the Hunters left edge present a connected defensive line to the attack in this example:

The markers and ruck defenders all work hard to pressure from the inside which releases the edge defenders – in this case Joshua Lau – early enough to make a good decision. Not only does Lau shut the play down here, the Hunters are then rewarded for their defensive discipline when Max collects the loose ball and runs away to score. 

It’s the most recent evidence of the Hunters genuine improvements under Aiton’s tutelage this season and a key reason for PNG’s current ladder position inside the top eight. 

On the back of their defensive resilience, Aiton’s Hunters have built some repeatable actions in attack this year to manage an average 28.75 points per game (fourth most in the QRL) after eight games played. The spine is combining smartly on either edge while Judah Rimbu marshalls a dynamic forward rotation through the middle of the field to generate attacking opportunities

Having tested their class against the top teams in the Hostplus Cup over the opening months, the Hunters now get a chance to flex their muscles against the 15th placed Ipswich Jets on Saturday. 

The Jets have limped their way into the 2024 regular season with just one win from their first eight games. That win came against the Western Clydesdales in just the second game of the season, meaning the Jets now haven’t tasted victory since the middle of March. 

That’s not to say Ipswich haven’t been in the fight at different stages this year. 

Narrow losses to Redcliffe and Burleigh in Rounds 4 & 5 serve as a reminder for PNG that the Jets are not to be underestimated coming into this weekend’s contest. Fresh off the back of three heavy defeats in the last month, Ipswich will be desperate to kick start their season with an improved performance on Saturday. 

The last time these two sides met was back in Round 8, 2023 when the SP PNG Hunters outscored the Jets to a 40-28 win. The local crowd at the Santos NFS were treated to a 12-try shootout on that day, with Hunters halfback Jamie Mavoko slotting an impressive six from seven off the tee. 

Players to Watch

Key to the Hunters steadily improving systems this season has been the continuity afforded to Paul Aiton’s squad on a week-to-week basis. Combinations are still an underrated aspect of rugby league and with familiar faces in key positions to begin the year, the Hunters are reaping the rewards of a steady team makeup. 

The Hunters backrow of Ila Alu, Benji Kot and Whallan Tau-Loi have been regular features in Aiton’s side this season and this trio have struck up a likely balance on the field. 

As the most experienced player in this Hunters pack, Alu continues to lead the way with his actions. A tireless worker on both sides of the ball, Alu doesn’t put up enormous numbers or take highlight reel carries but he is a vital contributor around the ruck. He’s constantly plugging holes in defence and consistently puts his hand up to take the tough early hit-ups out of PNG’s end. 

Tau-Loi profiles similarly to Alu as a high-effort, hard-working type player to average just over 30 tackles a game on the right edge this year. Still only 13 games into his QRL Hostplus Cup career, Tau-Loi’s application to all the little effort areas is encouraging for such a raw prospect. He runs a very good backrower’s line off his half and has a touch of class about his involvements that suggests Tau-Loi is a real player of the future. 

On the other side of the field, Hunters fans will already be well acquainted with left-edge backrower Benji Kot. The dynamic edge forward is a nightmare one-on-one with his unique blend of speed, size and skill and has formed a very likable combination with five-eighth Joshua Lau in attack. 

While PNG’s spine players and outside backs have lit up the scoreboard in recent weeks, most of those attacking opportunities are being earned by the likes of Alu, Tau-Loi and Kot in the leadup.

If the Hunters are to best the Ipswich Jets on Saturday afternoon, they’ll need to once again rely on the involvements of these three forwards.

Team List

  1. Sanny Wabo
  2. Brandon Nima
  3. Alex Max
  4. Elijah Roltinga
  5. Solo Wane
  6. Joshua Lau
  7. Jamie Mavoko
  8. Valentine Richard
  9. Judah Rimbu
  10. Anthony Worot
  11. Whallan Tau-Loi
  12. Benjamin Kelly
  13. Ila Alu (c)
  14. Finley Glare
  15. Robert Mathias
  16. Koso Bandi
  17. Seal Kalo
  18. Bruce Bawase

Leave a Reply

2022 Hostplus Cup