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The SP PNG Hunters may have fallen short against a stacked Souths-Logan Magpies outfit in Round 12 of the QRL Hostplus Cup, but they left no doubts about their own genuine qualities in a 48-36 loss on Saturday afternoon. 

The class of Souths-Logan’s NRL contracted players – the likes of Tevita Pangai Jnr, Fletcher Baker, Blake Mozer and highly-touted rookie halfback Cody Black – ultimately proved the difference in a fiery contest at the Santos National Football Stadium. Their ability to convert half chances into points with some high-risk, high-skill moments ensured the scoreboard continued ticking over, but this improving Hunters squad had some promising passages of their own during an impressive second-half comeback. 

Despite the end result, Head Coach Paul Aiton’s men showed without doubt that they have what it takes to go with some of the best rosters in the Hostplus Cup competition. 

At different stages throughout the contest in Round 12 the Hunters looked the better side as they crashed the middle in yardage and shifted smoothly in good-ball. To post seven tries against such an experienced defensive outfit is a credit to PNG’s improvements with the ball this season and if it weren’t for some isolated moments of ill-discipline in defence, the final scoreboard could’ve read very differently. 

An early try to Valentine Richard highlighted all of those improvements, cashing in courtesy of a familiar attacking action through five-eighth Joshua Lau on the left edge:

Lau’s deception with the ball and tempo change on his run is what creates the space for Alex Max back on the inside here. Turning underneath towards the same middle defenders who were targeted earlier in this set, Max breaks the line and finds Richard in support to score. 

In what ultimately became the theme for Saturday’s contest however, the Magpies responded to any of the Hunters’ repeatable attacking actions with some enterprising passages of their own. Black collected a deflection and promptly kicked across field for winger Israel Leota to score first before Radean Johnson feasted on Pangai Jnr’s ballplaying and a miracle kick from Jack Smith to bag the Magpies second. 

Another Pangai Jnr pass that hit the deck and bounced favourably for the visitors saw yet another NRL contracted star – Blake Mozer – extend Souths-Logan lead as it became clear that this wasn’t the Hunters day. Ill-discipline in yardage continued to give the Magpies cheap field possession and they made the most of it – and some more luck – to score three more before the halftime break.

Down 34-10 and with everything to play for after the break, the Papua New Guinean faithful at the Santos National Football Stadium were rewarded for their support with a brave second-half showing. 

As they’ve done all season to date, the Hunters doubled-down on their power game through the middle of the field to repeatedly turn ball carriers back in against the grain. In yardage they promoted fatigue into the Magpies defence and in good-ball they exposed those tired defenders to score, this time through Elijah Roltinga:

Just as Lau did in the previous example, Mavoko’s deception is what creates the half-chance for his centre here. With the out in front in two hands, Mavoko shapes to different options along a well-organised backline to get Roltinga into a one-on-one situation and the big centre does well enough to finish from there. 

Similar tactics from the Hunters in yardage eventually saw Richard bag a double thanks to some smart service from hooker Judah Rimbu close to the line but it was all in vain. Souths-Logan simply couldn’t match it with PNG when they flooded the ruck area and dragged the game into a grind but in the end, the Hunters beat themselves in this one with unforced errors and cheap penalties to constantly alleviate the pressure. 

Another well-worked try through Richard and fullback Sanny Wabo split the Magpies defence on their own line but an error from the ensuing kick-off killed all of PNG’s momentum and any hopes of a late comeback. 

Rather than focus on the end result however, Aiton and his coaching staff can again look to the genuine positives and lessons learned in defeat. 

A few isolated defensive lapses and individual errors were ultimately the difference against a highly-experienced and skilful Souths-Logan Magpies outfit on Saturday afternoon. With the ball in hand though, the SP PNG Hunters arguably looked the better side in QRL Round 12 to score some reliable and repeatable tries on both edges. Their gameplan in yardage continues to prove a success providing the Hunters can tidy up their discipline and continue to improve their defensive systems. 

The ongoing development of some of the Hunters next-gen stars – the likes of Joshua Lau, Alex Max & Sanny Wabo – is another huge positive in a losing side. With the attacking opportunities their forwards are earning through the middle of the field, Lau in particular is striking up some very promising combinations with his backrower, centre and fullback on the left edge. 

This late consolation try through Max is the most recent example of Lau’s bright future as a QRL playmaker. 

The young half plays with wonderful time and tempo on the ball, skipping across the line and straightening subtly before picking the right pass option more often than not. While some of the expansive, exciting actions Souths-Logan produced on Saturday will look good on the highlight reels, structured play like this from Lau and the Hunters is evidence of an intelligent and efficient attacking system. 

It’s still a work in progress for this young SP PNG Hunters squad but there is no doubt they are trending in the right direction. To win the second-half 26-14 despite the weight of possession and field position is a testament to the Hunters resilience this season, and to do so against such an experienced and skilful Souths-Logan side is a sign of things to come. 

A challenging road trip now awaits the SP PNG Hunters this Sunday 9th June as the Western Clydesdales play host at Toowoomba Sports Ground in Round 13 of the QRL Hostplus Cup. 



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

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