Never before has a team entered an Intrust Super Cup preliminary final with such pressure and expectation as the PNG Hunters did coming into this elimination game at Wynnum’s Kougari Oval on Sunday afternoon. That’s no disrespect to all the other fantastic clubs in the competition, but the Hunters have an entire country of over 7 million willing them to win and with a grand final beckoning, it reached fever pitch this week.
Maybe that weight of expectation played on the minds of the PNG side, or maybe it was an outstanding performance by the Ipswich Jets that didn’t allow the Hunters to get fully into the game. Ipswich looked comfortable throughout and forced more and more mistakes out PNG who were trying everything they could to score the try to turn the game around.
It wasn’t all Ipswich though, as the Hunters were first to score after a nervy for both sides as PNG kicked out on the full on the fifth tackle and Ipswich threw a wild forward pass early on. The Hunters try came via Stargroth Amean after backing up a great run from hooker Wartovo Puara. With the conversion dully completed they led 6-0 after 9 minutes.
The next question to come from the game was if Ipswich would do one of their famous short kickoffs, and given their strategy in the finals thus far no one should have been surprised when they went short and recovered. The next period was all about Ipswich as they almost scored courtesy of a flying Marmin Barba sideline and centre kick that was reviewed and denied. Ipswich continued to press with repeats sets, and just as it looked like the Hunters had seen off the pressure the Ipswich halfback Dane Phillips performed a little chip and chase to open up the Jets scoring. 6 -6 was the score at 20 minutes.
The Hunters were provided a gift from the kickoff as the Jets spilled the ball, but the spurned the chance with a poor play the ball two tackles later. It would be a theme throughout the match as PNG were offered chances, but failed to take them due to mistakes. Along that theme the Hunters were given a generous penalty not far out in the 30th minute, and this time they took advantage and grabbed the easy two points on offer.
The ever-awaited Ipswich kick off came next, and once again the tactic worked as they recovered the ball. It wasn’t long after that Ipswich took full advantage of the possession and took the lead with a try to five try hero from last week Matt Parcell. The 12-8 lead became 16-8 after 34 minutes not long after that as speedstar Marmin Barba scored in the corner after the Jets produced their usual attacking set from in the own half to try.
The last minute of the half just about summed up the day. With the Hunters looking for a try to get them back into the game and reduce the half time margin to two points they threw the perfect pass for Ipswich fullback Carlin Anderson to show his skills and speed as he ran over 90 metres to score a try that was going to make it hard for PNG to come back. The half time score of 22-8 looked formidable given the Jets form.
The Hunters turned around the 35% – 65% possession ratio in the early parts of the second half, but despite their efforts it wasn’t rewarded with more points. As they continued to push for more points, the more errors came, luckily for them Ipswich turned the ball over a few times too. Unlucky for them they were penalised instead of being asked to play the ball as the big Hunters prop Esau Siune placed the ball after being called held by the referee. In NRL he would have been asked to play the ball, but instead were penalised, and were punished in full 2 minutes later as Ipswich scored their fifth of the afternoon to lead 28-8.
PNG then threw the ball around a lot more in the hope of getting that spark to ignite their second half and save their season, but it was one of those days where no pass would stick or the fifth tackle plays weren’t effective enough, combined with a strong opposition who wouldn’t give them much to work with. There was still time left for the Hunters to score a try or two and make the last part of the game interesting, but could only manage one consolation try in the last minute to fan favourite Willie Minoga, who was the Hunters best throughout.
In the end Ipswich were good for their 28-12 win over a side who had well beaten them in the two previous clashes this year, and go into the Grand Final against Townsville with three good finals wins under their belt. They are only one of two sides to have beaten the Blackhawks this year, and given this weekend’s performance will be full of confidence to win a maiden title on Sunday at Suncorp Stadium. At a minimum their brand of football will be refreshingly entertaining, and if they win the Grand Final, it would be great for rugby league in general to get taste of their style in the State Championship. A great performance in their usual style in front of an audience that size may convince other teams and management that attacking, devil may care rugby league is the new way to go.
The PNG Hunters will be disappointed with the finals exit after two straight losses, but shouldn’t be with their 2015 season where they improved greatly from their excellent debut season, and the experience from this year will only help them in their third season. If the side isn’t picked apart by NRL vultures in the off season. There’ll be many people in PNG, and fans across Queensland who have been converted that will be hoping for an even stronger 2016. Here’s hoping they deliver
Tries: Carlin Anderson, Marmin Barba, Josh Cleeland, Dane Phillips, Matt Parcell
Goals: Carlin Anderson 4
PNG HUNTERS 12
Tries: Stargroth Amean, Willie Minoga
Goals: Noel Zeming 2