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The SP PNG Hunters return to the Santos National Football Stadium this Saturday, 1st June to host the Souths-Logan Magpies in Round 12 of the QRL Hostplus Cup. Kickoff is at 3:00pm.

The spiritual home of rugby league in Papua New Guinea has been a happy hunting ground for Head Coach Paul Aiton’s men this season, with wins from four of their five home games to start the year. The unfamiliar climate and lively home crowd at the Santos NFS make for what is arguably the most difficult away trip in the QRL competition, and on Saturday afternoon the 13th placed Magpies will be asked to brave the hostile conditions. 

Making this weekend’s trip even more difficult for Souths-Logan is the fact that PNG are coming off a disappointing loss to the Mackay Cutters in QRL Round 11.

The Hunters started fast at BB Print Stadium, Mackay on Sunday to score four well constructed tries in a dominant first half display. Veteran front rower Junior Rop and rookie centre Alex Max both bagged doubles as PNG worked through their sets and fell into familiar shapes in good-ball. 

In the latest chapter of what is becoming a healthy rivalry between the two clubs however, Mackay roared to life in the second half with a rush of late points as they capitalised on some unfamiliar combinations in PNG’s defensive line. 

Far from an excuse, Sunday’s loss highlighted the importance of team cohesion in such a young and inexperienced squad. With five-eighth Joshua Lau going down injured last week and regular right-edge backrower Whallan Tau-Loi already sidelined, the Hunters had new faces filling up in new positions and the Cutters impressed to make the most of those chances in the second-half. 

Thankfully for Aiton’s Hunters, they know what works for them this season and there’s a simple remedy heading into Saturday’s fixture with the Magpies.

Spearheaded by Judah Rimbu at dummy-half and Jamie Mavoko in the halves, the Hunters have the on-field generals to employ a gameplan through the middle of the field. As the start of regular season has shown, few rival forward packs can match it with PNG when they flood the ruck area in yardage, get to their kick and embrace the grind. It’s a tactic that aims to promote fatigue into their opponents’ middle and open things up late in each half for the Hunters improving attack to strike. 

The Hunters know if they can stay disciplined and defend well, they have more than enough points in them to trouble even the best teams in the Hostplus Cup. 

For Souths-Logan, their difficult 2024 campaign won’t get any easier this weekend with a desperate and dangerous Hunters outfit waiting for them in Port Moresby. 

That being said, the Magpies have plenty to play for on Saturday after two consecutive 40-point losses to the Pride and Tigers in the last fortnight. While back-to-back onslaughts from two of the competition heavyweights has left Souths-Logan with the second-worst defence in the competition heading into QRL Round 11, their attack is on the improve and kept things interesting in both recent defeats.  

The Magpies posted a flurry of late tries against the run of play against both the Pride and Tigers, highlighting their ability with the ball under pressure. 

The mid-season inclusion of NRL powerhouse Tevita Pangai Jnr at Souths-Logan has certainly contributed to those improvements and he profiles as a key figure for the visitors on Saturday. 

Player to Watch

The SP PNG Hunters sorely missed Whallan Tau-Loi’s defensive presence on their right edge last week. The young backrower is just 14 games into his QRL Hostplus Cup career and is still learning his craft but has provided the Hunters with some real defensive staunch and nous so far this season. 

Where his backrow partner Benji Kot is more of a highlight reel player who can skittle defenders or produce flashy one-handed offloads, Tau-Loi takes a more conservative approach with the ball. He runs a very convincing decoy off his halfback which, while not always obvious in real time, is often just as important to any scoring action out wide. Tau-Loi’s timing and angles on those decoy runs help to compress the defence towards the ball and create space on the edge for his centre and winger. 

When he does take possession, Tau-Loi’s precision angles help him find gaps in the line and generate ruck speed. The Hunters have scored more than a few already this year on the back of a Tau-Loi quick play-the-ball. 

It’s in defence though where Tau-Loi’s contributions to this Hunters side are most telling. 

With a tick over 90% tackle efficiency and an average 30 tackles per game, Tau-Loi is a tireless worker off the ball. What he gives away in size he makes up for with a wonderful tackle technique and good early positioning in the line. Tau-Loi consistently gets his body in front and makes good decisions under pressure to support the half on his inside. 

Back this week after missing QRL Round 11 with a minor injury, look for Tau-Loi to shore up the right edge defensively on Saturday while helping to straighten up Jamie Mavoko and the Hunters good-ball attack. 

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. Benji Kot
  13. Ila Alu (c)
  14. Finley Glare
  15. Jordan Pat
  16. Junior Rop
  17. Robert Mathias
  18. Clent Lama
  19. Koso Bandi
  20. Junior Talin
  21. Manisa Kai
  22. Joshua Mire


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

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2022 Hostplus Cup