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The SP PNG Hunters are back in the winners circle following a brave 28-22 win away from home over the Western Clydesdales in Round 13 of the QRL Hostplus Cup. 

The Toowoomba locals at Clive Berghofer Stadium arrived full of optimism on Sunday afternoon following a string of narrow losses for the Clydesdales over the last month. There have been signs of genuine improvement for the 14th-placed club during that time but any hopes of a resurgence were dashed by an early Clent Lama try. 

The Hunters dominated field position in the opening exchanges to force a pressure kick from the Clydesdales in their first possession. A successful charge down attempt from Hunters five-eighth Finley Glare then led to another error from the home side as they failed to clean up the loose ball, setting things up for Lama to draw first blood in just the third minute. 

Glare looked sharp filling in for regular No.6 Joshua Lau on PNG’s left edge, immediately falling into familiar shapes with backrower Benji Kot and centre Lama in good-ball. He fired three shots down the left tram line in the Hunters first attacking set, eventually splitting them with a neat short ball to a hard-running Lama off his hip:

Jamie Mavoko’s pinpoint conversion gave PNG an early six-point lead but the Clydesdales made the most of some friendly refereeing calls to quickly strike back. The Hunters lost veteran forward Junior Rop to some friendly fire when he collided with a teammate who was pushed by a defender before Elijah Roltinga then lost the ball in what appeared to be a two-man tackle.

With the ensuing field position, local winger Kaden Buhse eventually dotted down in the corner courtesy of a looping, Harbour Bridge pass from half Kai Duggan. In a sign of things to come though, PNG forced the home side to search for points on both edges and produce a special pass to finally crack their improving defence.

Clydesdales centre Corey Fenning made things look a little easier for the home side’s second, capitalising on a yardage break from winger Fua Schwalger to score a few tackles later and then convert his own try to set a 10-6 scoreline. 

The Hunters were forced into another reshuffle when Whallan Tau-Loi left the field with a facial injury but the proud PNG-based club refused to make excuses. Despite having multiple players filling up in different positions, Head Coach Paul Aiton’s men stuck to a plan in yardage, embraced the grind and waited for their opposition to crack.

An offside penalty in the 22nd minute gave PNG a chance and strike backrower Benji Kot took it with both hands. Just as he did in the opening sets, five-eighth Glare dominated the ball in the Clydesdales’ red-zone, testing their right edge on multiple occasions before tipping his backrower in for a try in his 50th QRL appearance. 

Suddenly back in front following another successful Mavoko conversion, the Hunters showed why their attack currently ranks first in the QRL to score immediately after a botched short kickoff from the home side.

Setting up on the left tram line, all four of the Hunters key spine players combined to shift the ball smoothly to Solo Wane on the right wing. 

Mavoko isn’t credited for the linebreak assist or try assist here but his work on the ball is crucial. 

His subtle change in tempo and and turn of the hips with the ball out in front engages the Clydesdales’ edge defenders and prevents them from sliding out on Wane. With the space afforded him, the veteran winger nails his assignment to burn his opposite number and send Elijah Roltinga back in towards the posts. 

The Hunters ruthless attack continued to flex its class as halftime approached, striking again while the iron was hot through fullback Sanny Wabo. 

The involvements of Glare down PNG’s left edge continued to cause problems for the home side, this time holding too long on the five-eighth to give Lama half a chance out in the centres. With multiple defenders left on the ground or offside following Lama’s play-the-ball, Brandon Nima showcased all his experience to sneak down the blind side and pass Wabo in for a classy four-pointer.

Another superb effort off the tee from Mavoko – this time from the far right touch line – added to PNG’s lead at the break, icing a penalty as the half-time siren sounded. 

The Hunters were playing with all the momentum in QRL Round 13 but it was the home side who would score against the run of play to kickoff the second half. Clydesdales captain Taniela Otukolo did it all himself with a stunning run out of half, dummying to fool multiple defenders on his way to the try line. 

Otukolo’s solo effort summed up an expansive, end-to-end, high scoring period either side of halftime but the game soon fell into a grind as fatigue set in. Both sides worked to the kick smartly as the points dried up and front loaded their efforts in defence; a playing style that complemented PNG’s strengths through the middle of the field. 

It didn’t take long for the Hunters to wrestle back momentum in the grind, this time forcing an error in yardage from the home side. Some smart defending from Judah Rimbu and Junior Rop saw the Hunters nail Clydesdales prop Blake Lenehan with a textbook two-man tackle and knock the ball loose. 

Not done there, Rop and Rimbu then combined a few tackles later to split the Clydesdales defence on their own line with a lethal one-two punch:

Some nice deception from Rimbu gets Rop one-on-one close to the line here and the big prop wins the tackle like he should to generate a quick play-the-ball. With ruck defenders offside or late into position on the line, Rimbu pounced from dummy-half to bag his seventh try of the season. 

Having won their way out to a 28-18 lead, the Hunters made things simple for themselves heading into the final quarter. With nothing to do but defend their lead through until full time, PNG’s improving defensive systems were put to the test by a desperate Clydesdales attack. 

Interchange hooker Drew Timms emulated Rimbu’s burrowing effort to make it a six-point ball game with 20 minutes to play but that’s as close as the home side would get. Despite enjoying the rub of the green with a number of 50/50 calls as the clock ticked over, the Clydsedales couldn’t break down a resilient and connected PNG defensive line on either edge. 

The Hunters made sure to turn the ball over in the right areas on the park and then doubled-down on their defensive efforts, tackling their way to full time. Tau-Loi returned from an early injury to make a number of crucial try-saving tackles on his edge while the Hunters middle of Ila Alu, Rimbu, Rop and Jordan Pat refused to crack around the posts.

To repel the Clydesdales for the best part of 20 minutes and while under immense fatigue and pressure is a testament to the improvements PNG have made off the ball this season. The best teams in the Hostplus Cup are those who find different ways to win and this defensive display is a new-look for the Hunters in season 2024. They’ve got the attack to trouble anyone in the QRL and are slowly but surely developing the defensive systems to match. 

The SP PNG Hunters are go for a much needed break for a week with two back to back bye’s in round 14 & 15 to come back and face the Ipswich Jets at North Ipswich Reserve, kick off at 3pm.



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

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2022 Hostplus Cup