For the lucky few who follow the Queensland Cup updates here at NothingButLeague, it’s not hard to work out that I have a substantial soft spot for the PNG Hunters. In fact you could call me some kind of Hunters “groupie”, as I have graced most of their SEQ appearances in the past two seasons, including their inaugural Intrust Super Cup game in 2014 at Dolphin Oval.
But it’s hard not to get excited, their style of rugby league excites – no offload is impossible, no opportunity for punishing defence is missed, no place on the field is forbidden to start a try from. Most of all, the passion they bring is infectious and addictive, from the warm up routine to the final siren. I’ve dragged a few people to Hunters games over the past two seasons, and all have been caught up in it and converted. They seem to be popular everywhere they go, with a Hunters game usually a good chance for a surge in fan numbers at the ground.
Of course nowhere are they more popular than in their home country, well known to be the only country where rugby league is the national sport. A fact from last weekend’s round is that the only sell out in rugby league last weekend came in Port Moresby, and the number at the game was only beaten by the Broncos and Cowboys. The previous visit to Port Moresby saw a crowd higher than every NRL game of that round.
For those out of the loop, the PNG Hunters entered the Intrust Super Cup last year, and it is the second appearance of a team from PNG in Queensland’s top comp after the Port Moresby Vipers played in 1996 and 1997. The Hunters first season provided plenty of the qualities that have now seen them as one of the top clubs in this year’s competition, but a little bit of inexperience and a bad run in mid season saw them miss the finals by one spot.
It looked like second season syndrome in 2015 as the Hunters lost 3 of their first 6 games, but Round 6 was the last loss for the PNG side who have now been unbeaten since April, and just a draw with Redcliffe the only minor hiccup, but what a game. (http://www.nothingbutleague.com/2015/07/05/hunters-and-phins-play-out-entertaining-draw/).
This run from Round 7 onwards has included all the style they are loved for, but they have also found that toughness to get home in a number of close games this year, and fast becoming the perfect package in the Intrust Super Cup.
As the Hunters stand at the edge of success in this year’s Intrust Super Cup – they are now guaranteed a top two spot and will play Townsville in the first week of the finals (a team they have beaten two this year) – it is now time for everyone to jump on board the PNG Hunters bandwagon before the word gets out and Hunters become big time news.
So before they hit the big time, you should get to know just a few of the names that people will be talking about soon. The halves – Israel Eliab and Ase Boas – are top class and wouldn’t look out of place in the NRL anytime soon. Fullback Stargroth Amean can sniff out a try from anywhere. A great example of this was last year at Davies Park where a spilled bomb by his winger happened to bounce sideways and into the arms of an already steaming Amean who went from in goal to in goal to score an unbelievable try. Not quite as flashy, but big and tough are prop Esau Siune, and centre Thompson Teteh. There’s also the underrated goal kicking from the other centre Noel Zemming who has got the Hunters out of some close games this season.
But you could write a story for all the Hunters, but there’s one man that seems to capture the imagination like no other, the man in number 16, Willie Minoga. The man voted fan’s favourite from last year has continued the brand of football that delighted all in 2014, and there is always the anticipation of the 16 coming onto the field for the first time in each game. His barnstorming runs and ferocious defence have got the fans excited this year, and he scores tries more often than a replacement forward is usually warranted to do so.
Hopefully this love-in won’t be a poisoned chalice for the PNG Hunters, I’ve waited until the top two position was safe to share my thoughts. If this season does end in a Grand Final appearance at Suncorp Stadium on September 27 then the Hunters will be talk of the town, and any rugby league fan close enough to Brisbane will be doing themselves a disservice by not making the effort to attend. If the swelling of fans and noise at Hunters away games for the regular season in Brisbane is any indication, this will be the rugby league experience of 2015. Keep the date free and spread the word.