The Intrust Super Cup stands on the edge of history as the PNG Hunters are one win away from being the first international team to make the Grand Final of Queensland’s premier competition.
Port Moresby’s National Football Stadium is the location of the Major Semi Final between the minor premiers PNG Hunters and 2nd placed Redcliffe Dolphins, and there will barely have been an atmosphere like what is promised in PNG on Sunday. It will hopefully be a packed ground full of rugby league loving PNG locals, and for their sake and rugby league in general it would be great if they are rewarded with a win.
Whilst Ase Boas and Michael Marum have picked up awards of Best/Most Popular Player and Best Coach respectively at the recent QRL Awards night, those nods of approval will mean nothing if the Hunters don’t make the Grand Final this year.
Their recent record in finals isn’t great, and by not great it is 0 – 3, 2015 being the heartbreak as they just missed out on the minor premiership to the Blackhawks and then got knocked out in straight sets. The second of those losses was at Wynnum’s BMD Kougari Oval against eventual premiers Ipswich, significantly it was a neutral venue as the Hunters were denied the right to host a home game due to broadcast costs.
That scenario could happen again, as the QRL have stated they won’t go to PNG if the Hunters do lose this weekend, so PNG will be hoping to avoid that happening again. So too, probably will be the QRL.
But they face a tough task of a Redcliffe side with experience, a great five game winning run to end the season, and the upper hand after a convincing 28-12 win the last time these two teams played in Round 21 at Dolphin Oval. They are as good a side on paper as the minor premiers, and this should be a clash for the ages.
LAST TIME OUT
Both sides had for the first week of the finals last weekend as a result of finishing first and second, and victory gives the winner another week off to think about the Grand Final.
Going back to the last match of the regular season for these two teams it was a different story for these sides.
Redcliffe were on the road to Cairns and defeated the Northern Pride 40-16 in a decent last hit out. It also saw a winning run continue to five straight.
PNG Hunters went down to Piggabeen, and indeed went down to the Tweed Heads Seagulls for the second time in 2017. The Seagulls were the Hunters bogey side this season and they belied their position of last place for all but one round before the season ended. It didn’t stop the Hunters sealing the minor premiers, but it stopped their progress. Or maybe it was the loss they had to have.
Anyone who has seen a Hunters-Dolphins game will know it will all be about the early moments of the game with both packs. Having been to every Hunters visit to Dolphin Oval since 2014, there is always the excitement and anticipation of the initial exchanges in the middle between the forward packs.
Redcliffe certainly got the better of this in their last meeting at Dolphin Oval, skipping out to a 20-0 lead by half time, and another try two min utes from half time had Redcliffe in command. The Dolphins were helped by some favourable calls, but the advantage certainly wasn’t worth 20 points.
Redcliffe’s big men of Matt Lodge and Sam Anderson will be leading the way as they have all season, being directed by the excellent Shane Pumipi, and the workhorse Troy Giess who has plenty of finals experience with Sunshine Coast and Easts.
PNG Hunters have plenty of power themselves with a pair of Alberts up front, and the big man Moses Meninga at lock.
One advantage the Hunters may have is the strength in their bench, depending on who of the seven named on the bench will be picked. One who will no doubt be picked is fan and personal favourite the Freight Train of Willie Minoga. Minoga has played centre and run-on second this season, and if he is to come off the bench on Sunday will provide plenty of impact.
Redcliffe’s bench still offer a lot as well, with the headline act being the fearsome Tyson Cleal who will no doubt hurt a few Hunters with his ferocious defence.
The great story for rugby league in general will be a PNG Hunters win, and fast track to the Intrust Super Cup Grand Final.
And although the PNG Hunters are much improved in 2017, there are two question marks. The first is their 0-3 Finals record from their two previous appearances in 2015 and 2016, the second is their home form this season. The fortress that was PNG has been breached a few times in 2017 with losses to the lower end teams Norths and Tweed Heads, and a draw with Mackay. Will the charged atmosphere of the National Football Stadium be enough?
Redcliffe have the experience of last year’s finals run including the Grand Final, and that may end up being a winning advantage, and they come into the game on a winning run of 5 games at the right time of the year.
The heart wants to say it is the Hunters who get to the Grand Final first after Sunday. The head says Redcliffe by 4.
2017 HEAD TO HEAD
R7 PNG Hunters 12 Redcliffe Dolphins 10
R21 Redcliffe Dolphins 28 PNG Hunters 12
Unfortunately there is no coverage of this match in Australia.
1. Stargroth Amean 2. Wawa Paul 3. Bland Abavu 4. Adex Wera 5. Butler Morris 6. Ase Boas (c) 7. Watson Boas 8. Wellington Albert 9. Wartovo Puara 10. Stanton Albert 11. David Loko 12. Nixon Putt 13. Moses Meninga 14. Rahdly Brawa 15. Willie Minoga 17. Brandy Peter 18. Esau Siune 20. Silas Gahuna 16. Enock Maki 19. Karo Kauna Jr
Coach: Michael Marum
1. Zach Strasser 2. Jonus Pearson 3. Thompson Teteh 4. Moses Pangai 5. Tom Opacic 6. Jack Ahearn 7. Christian Hazard 8. Nathan Watts 9. Shane Pumipi 10. Matthew Lodge 11. Daniel Bridge 12. Troy Giess 13. Sam Anderson (c) 14. Hugh Pratt 15. Tyson Cleal 16. Myles Taueli 17. Aaron Whitchurch 18. Joshua Beehag
Coach: Adam Mogg