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A challenging road trip awaits the SP PNG Hunters this Sunday, 9th of June with the Western Clydesdales playing host at Toowoomba Sports Ground in Round 13 of the QRL Hostplus Cup. Kickoff is at 2:10pm. 

The Hunters compelling 2024 campaign has hit a slight speed bump in recent weeks, following a superb start to the regular season during which PNG toppled some of the QRL competition heavyweights. Back to back losses against the Mackay Cutters and Souths-Logan Magpies in the last fortnight however has put a dampener on that fast start to the year.

The importance of combinations and team cohesion has been stressed in those two losses with Head Coach Paul Aiton being forced to navigate injuries to key players. The likes of Joshua Lau, Whallan Tau-Loi, Robert Mathias, Valentine Richard, Junior Talin and Sakias Komati have all been unavailable at different times over the last month and this young Hunters squad has felt the pinch of that instability. 

Far from looking for excuses, Aiton has acknowledged the disruption while welcoming the challenge that comes with it. 

“Obviously we’ve been disappointed with the results over the last two weeks but we know we’re working in the right direction,” said Aiton. 

“It’s been a bit unstable lately with players coming in and out. We’re a bit short on our edges at the moment but there’s no excuses and it’s a great opportunity for some of our squad players to come in and step up to the challenge.”

Regardless of the personnel available, scoring points has not been an issue for this improving Hunters outfit in season 2024. 

Currently ranked second across the Hostplus Cup competition for total points, PNG have shown they can break down even the best defensive teams in the QRL. Few rival forward packs can match it with PNG’s power game through the middle of the field while the spine quartet of Judah Rimbu, Joshua Lau, Jamie Mavoko and Sanny Wabo has linked smartly to orchestrate points in good-ball. 

Against a Souths-Logan side stacked with NRL contracted talent last week, the Hunters attack managed an impressive seven tries from just 19 completed sets. The Magpies simply didn’t have an answer to PNG’s momentum around the ruck when they played to a plan in attack and the Hunters piled on the points from there. 

It was only some isolated moments of ill discipline on either side of the ball that allowed Souths-Logan to maintain an early lead through until full time, and Aiton stressed the focus this week is tidying up those lapses. 

“We’ve been really good in patches, particularly with the ball. Attack isn’t a problem for us, we just need to keep working on our discipline and staying in our systems in defence,” Aiton said. 

“Communication has been a big focus this week. We know if we can keep the talk up and stay connected it will go a long way to tightening up our edges.”

With right edge backrower Whallan Tau-Loi and left-side half Joshau Lau both managing injuries this week, the Hunters will again call on their depth players to fill the void. Finley Glare has been PNG’s Mr Fix It at different times this year and will step into the five-eighth role on Sunday while Joshua Mire earns a recall on the bench. 

While the Clydesdales are languishing in 14th position on the QRL ladder, there are no easy games in the Hostplus Cup and the Toowoomba-based club will have everything to play for this weekend. 

A 32-30 Round 8 win over the Redcliffe Dolphins saw the Clydesdales bank their first competition points just over a month ago, but a string of three narrow losses since has left them with just one win from their first nine games. Boosted by the home ground advantage on Sunday however and given the expected freezing conditions, the Clydesdales present a danger game for the SP PNG Hunters this weekend. 

These clubs clashed twice in the 2023 regular season with PNG coming out on top in both fixtures. It was a tight contest early in the year as the Hunters repelled a late comeback attempt to bank a 20-10 win in Round 1, before a seven-try haul in Round 13 saw PNG flex their class in a 40-point shut-out. 

The SP PNG Hunters have the gameplan in attack to trouble the Clydesdales in this one but it will all come down to their defence. How well the Hunters new-look edges stay connected and work within their systems will likely be the deciding factor on Sunday afternoon. 

Player to Watch

With boom-rookie playmaker Joshua Lau out with a minor injury in QRL Round 13, the SP PNG Hunters will look towards halfback Jamie Mavoko and hooker Judah Rimbu to steer the ship in attack. 

Now two of the more senior players in this young Hunters squad, Mavoko and Rimbu have been crucial to the Hunters fast start to the year. Rimbu is a tireless presence around the ruck, often topping the tackle count for his team in defence while offering clever service and a dangerous running game in attack. Whenever the Hunters generate some ruck speed in yardage to leave a defender on the ground, Rimbu’s ruck recognition is such that he will always take the cheap metres on offer.

In attacking field position, Rimbu’s combination with his forwards through the middle of the field is providing the Hunters with repeatable avenues to the try line. When he’s not burrowing over from dummy-half himself, Rimbu is passing his big forwards into smaller defenders to compress the defensive line in towards the ball. While that tactic doesn’t always lead to points beside the posts, what it does do is open up the spaces out wide for Mavoko and the PNG backline. 

Mavoko’s ability to count numbers and engage specific defenders is key to unlocking the Hunters right edge in attack. The wily halfback plays with great tempo to straighten the attack and pass his teammates into positive involvements down the tram line. 

Elijah Roltinga in the centres and Solo Wane on the wing have both benefited from the ballplaying of Mavoko on their inside, as has fullback Sanny Wabo sweeping out the back of shape. 

When the Hunters trouble the scoreboard on Sunday afternoon, look out for the involvements of Rimbu and Mavoko in the lead up; there’s a good chance one or both Hunters playmakers will be heavily involved somewhere. 

Team List

  1. Sanny Wabo
  2. Brandon Nima
  3. Clent lama
  4. Elijah Roltinga
  5. Solo Wane
  6. Finley Glare
  7. Jamie Mavoko
  8. Valentine Richard
  9. Judah Rimbu
  10. Junior Rop
  11. Benji Kot
  12. Ila Alu (c)
  13. Jordan Pat
  14. Koso Bandi
  15. Anthony Worot
  16. Joshua Mire
  17. Manisa Kai


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

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2022 Hostplus Cup