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The SP PNG Hunters started fast in Round 11 of the QRL Hostplus Cup but it was the Mackay Cutters who finished strongest at BB Print Stadium to the tune of a 40-26 win. 

Coming into Sunday’s fixture on the back of three straight victories, the Hunters have impressed to forge a real identity in attack this season. Their patient, grinding approach with the ball is designed to pay dividends once fatigue has set it, meaning this Hunters outfit often leaves its best work until late in each half. 

On Sunday however the Hunters started fast. 

An early try to recalled front-rower Junior Rop set the tone for a high scoring affair in QRL Round 11 as Papua New Guinea bucked a recent trend to be the first on the scoreboard. 

Rop’s try was no fluke either. In familiar scenes, Judah Rimbu and Jamie Mavoko pointed and passed their pack into good field position before setting up around the posts with consecutive forward runners dropping back against the grain. Fatigued and disconnected on their own line, the Cutters couldn’t contain Rop with a full head of steam just metres out from the line. 

Rop’s second try looked a little different as the Hunters applied pressure with their kick chase to force an error from Mackay fullback Raydan Burns. 

A pinpoint yardage kick from Joshua Lau tasked Burns with a difficult catch on his own line and the Hunters kick chase was rewarded for their efforts when the ball propped up for Rop in the in-goal. 

Starved of possession in the opening stages, the home side knuckled down to slowly win some field position of their own. They forced a goal-line dropout with their first good-ball set before centre Josh Smith cashed in on the left edge to post Mackay’s first points. 

As fatigue began to set in through the middle of the field, the running games of Cutters halves Riley Dean and Jaxson Purdue became more prominent. Both took their opportunities to get over the advantage line in yardage and challenge PNG’s ruck defence, eventually enjoying some luck when Purdue sliced through himself in the 24th minute. 

With both sides trading shots early on to register a 10-10 scoreline, it was the Hunters who would next stamp their authority on the contest. 

A flood of three straight tries on either side of halftime highlighted the improvements made by this young Hunters squad in 2024 as they stuck to a gameplan with the ball to pile on the points.

Left centre Alex Max scored his first of two on Sunday via a signature left-edge movement through five-eighth Joshua Lau in good-ball:

Crashing the middle with hard running forwards and scrambling the line with some second-phase play, PNG set things up perfectly for Lau and Max here. With tired defenders overchasing from the inside, Lau used some lovely deception with multiple moving bodies around him to open up the space for Max dropping back underneath. 

The Hunters then presented some nice variation down that same left edge to put Max over for his second just before halftime. 

A classy involvement from returning Hunters fullback Morea Morea was the difference on this occasion, linking with Lau to split the Cutters edge defence and create an overlap situation out wide. A bit of footwork and a smart offload from Morea put Max into half a space from there, and the big centre did well to brush off multiple defenders on his way to the in-goal. 

With all the momentum either side of the break, the Hunters kept their foot on the throat to extend the lead through Elijah Roltinga in similar scenes to how PNG started the match.

Another well-placed yardage kick from Hunters halfback Mavoko this time put Burns under pressure near his own line and the Cutters fullback cracked again, spilling the ball to the delight of the PNG kick chase. It was Roltinga who found himself in the right place at the right time on this occasion, juggling the loose ball on his way to the try line. 

Suddenly finding themselves down 26-10 midway through the second half, the home side were desperate for a response and got one through halfback Purdoe.

Just as he did late in the first half, Purdoe’s running game became an issue for the Hunters defence once fatigue set in to break the line multiple times in yardage. One of those linebreaks ended up being the catalyst for Brandon Russel to crash over a few tackles later to kickstart the Cutters comeback. 

The Hunters defended their lead desperately as the clock wound down but it was Mackay who had all the momentum heading into the final quarter. 

Starved of possession and field position – and with injuries to a number of key players –  PNG simply ran out of legs while the Cutters attack roared to life.The importance of squad cohesion became all the more apparent as Mackay targeted some unfamiliar combinations in PNG’s defensive line to score again through five-eighth Riley Dean before another three tries in the last 10 minutes took the result out of reach. 

Where the SP PNG Hunters have been dominant in the back end of each half to start the season, in QRL Round 11 it was the Mackay Cutters who delivered PNG a taste of their own medicine. A few late injuries and some new faces in different positions didn’t help the Hunters’ cause on Sunday afternoon, but that won’t be an excuse for the proud PNG-based club who will feel they beat themselves in this one. 

With a return to the Santos National Football Stadium looming this Saturday, 1st June against the Souths-Logan Magpies, the SP PNG Hunters will go back to the drawing board in preparation for a big performance in Round 12 of the QRL Hostplus Cup. 



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

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2022 Hostplus Cup