The PNG Hunters secured an emotional first Intrust Super Cup, four years after their inception into the competition, with a late try to Willie Minoga capping off an exciting finish.
There was plenty of dropped ball, and whilst that frustrated throughout the game, the finish was sensational as the Hunters claimed the match-winning try with less than two minutes to go after blowing several attempts close to the Falcons’ line.
With plenty of support for the Hunters amongst the 11,000-strong crowd, the atmosphere was the best for any Intrust Super Cup game held at Suncorp Stadium, and they were silenced early by a fast Falcons start, but the noise built throughout the afternoon as did the Hunters’ chances of winning. The roar of the match-winning try was spine-tingling.
A historic moment for the PNG Hunters, and the Intrust Super Cup, as the trophy heads to another country for the first time. It could be argued it is Papua New Guinea’s greatest rugby league moment.
Early Hunters nerves sees Sunshine Coast skip out to early lead
It appeared that nerves got the better of the Hunters in the early stages and the Falcons made them pay with slick, crisp attacking play.
The match was only minutes old when the Falcons sped down the right-hand side after Scott Drinkwater picked up a loose pass and gave the ball to a flying Jahrome Hughes who gave the ball to Matthew Soper-Lawler who did some fine work to score the opening four pointer of the match. The winger did plenty of work to evade capture by the Hunters, and the pro-Hunters crowd were silenced.
Not long after the Falcons were in again through Joe Stimson; this try was particularly worrying for the PNG side as it seemed all too easy given the Falcons’ powerful finals run, and up 10-0 up after six minutes, it could be a very ordinary afternoon for the Hunters. The Falcons were eating up the metres in attack, taking advantage of the Hunters’ nerves and their great finals form and attacking weapons.
Nerves were very much evident when even reliable hooker Wartovo Puara dropped it cold from dummy half in the early stages, showing anyone was capable of match day nerves. He wasn’t the only one to drop the ball on the day.
Heads were down as it took until halfway through the first half before the Hunters appeared to settle down.
For all of the Falcons’ attacking threat though, there was no more points for them. That was despite the excellent Jahrome Hughes and Scott Drinkwater’s efforts, who were great throughout, and the addition of Guy Hamilton later in the game. The Hunters’ goalline defence was once again sensational, it being the backbone of their final win against Redcliffe two weeks prior.
Plenty of dropped ball frustrates
There was so much dropped ball. So much.
As exciting as the finish was, one couldn’t say it was the greatest game of rugby league, with what seemed like a knock on every two minutes.
The Hunters were the worst offenders and would have been lucky to have their completion rate over 50%. Painfully a lot of their dropped ball was in attack, just metres from the line and with a try begging to be scored.
They weren’t the only offenders as the Sunshine Coast dropped plenty of ball themselves, offering the Hunters opportunities time after time to stay in touch and ultimately steal the win with the late Willie Minoga try.
The drop ball was frustrating as it made the game very stop-start, but given the commitments in defence it didn’t come as a surprise that the dropped ball was the by product. With the Hunters needing to score a late try, fans held their breath with every play in the hope they held onto the ball.
Hunters surge on the back of passionate Suncorp Stadium
The crowd for the Intrust Super Cup was a very respectable 11,260, and at a conservative guess about two-thirds of the support was for the Hunters. There was plenty of red, black and yellow, and SP Lager sponsorship all over the stadium; the noise created was unlike any other Intrust Super Cup Grand Final I’ve attended.
PNG needed that support as they went into the break 10-0 down despite numerous chants going around Suncorp Stadium urging the Hunters on.
It wasn’t long after the break when Hunters halfback Watson Boas scored after a scrambling play on the last tackle to reduce the gap to 10-6, the possession being gifted to PNG after the Falcons dropped the ball from the kick off to the second half.
Although the gap remained at a very reachable four points for the Hunters, their completion rate and Falcons threat in attack made that small gap seem a long way off. The Hunters were on top going into the last part of the game, and sensing the tension and need for support the PNG fans ramped up their volume. A pity it was usually meet with a groan after yet another loss of possession. It seemed all that support would go home without reward until the last-minute match-winner.
Who else but Willie Minoga to score the match-winning try?
A moment of self-indulgence as the Hunters’ big match-winning moment was sealed by a player who I’ve been waxing lyrical about since he first caught the eye as an impact interchange forward.
With the Hunters on their last chance with little more than a minute to go, a perfectly weighted grubber kick from Ase Boas was pounced upon by the Hunters forward who just wanted it the most in heavy traffic. The long wait on the video referee merely built the tension and made the try confirmation celebration all the more emotional for the Hunters.
Driving Willie Minoga to be the first to that ball may have been the regret of missing out on what looked like a blown chance to win the game minutes earlier. Lurking on the right edge, as he does so effectively, a hard, flat pass metres out was put down by the big man. With a try begging and not long left on the clock, it seemed their big chance had been lost.
The win – and being the match winner -clearly meant a lot to the man known by the Freight Train, Raging Bull or Mack Truck, as he was clearly emotional before and after the match had ended, and why wouldn’t he be? He had sealed a sensational win for the many people of Papua New Guinea, and many of their fans all around the state. No doubt before they are done this season, they may get a few more PNG Hunters converts.
Queensland domination complete, now for Australia.
With a first Intrust Super Cup premiership sealed, the Hunters can now turn their attention to the NRL State Championship final.
There should be plenty of hype leading into the game, and being able to show their efforts on a national stage will no doubt win them many more admirers across the country, if not the world.
Whilst talk of a PNG NRL side will be abundant, it is unfortunately a little fanciful in this day and age of corporate importance in sport, a shame as they would be a hit. Realistically it may do plenty for the Fiji bid for the NSW Cup, and perhaps other Pacific Island nations to follow the Hunters example.
PNG HUNTERS 12
Tries: Watson Boas (42m), Willie Minoga (78m)
Goals: Ase Boas 2/2 Conv
SUNSHINE COAST FALCONS 10
Tries: Matthew Soper-Lawler (2m), Joe Stimson (6m)
Goals: Joe Stimson 1/2 Conv