Samoa have defeated a gallant PNG Kumuls side 24-6 at Leichhardt Oval.
The closest game of the three internationals on Saturday almost ended in an upset as the PNG Kumuls took it right to a Samoan side stacked with NRL experience.
It looked like it could be a lopsided match when Jarome Luai opened the scoring for Samoa after just four minutes. PNG dropped the ball in a promising attack and three plays later the Penrith utility sidestepped about six Kumuls to score from second-phase play.
Samoa doubled their lead in the 20th minute when Josh Aloiai ran over from 20 metres after some lacklustre PNG defence. It was a shame as the Kumuls had previously defended their line so admirably.
But the Kumuls started to get into the game as the errors and penalties started to creep in for Samoa. PNG were rewarded in the 29th minute when debutant Terry Wapi crashed over from dummy half on the fifth tackle. It was the least they deserved after being on top in the second half of the first forty minutes. The half time score (12-6) was about right on the balance of play, although it could have been 18-6 if not for Martin Taupau being offside when PNG spilled another towering bomb.
The second half saw the Kumuls pick up where they left off in the first half, and there was a real sense that a major upset was on the cards. PNG were super enthusiastic and continued to force errors and penalties out of Samoa, but they couldn’t make that advantage count.
They were punished in the 65th minute when Junior Paulo crashed over from 10 metres through a tiring PNG defence up the middle. That try really took the wind of the Kumuls’ sails, which was deflated further when Chanel Harris-Tavita scored, almost comically, as his attempted field goal hit the post and bounced into the in-goal where it was watched by Terry Wapi as Harris-Tavita simply caught the ball and dropped to the ground to score.
The final score (24-6) didn’t really tell the story, and the far less experienced PNG side can take a lot of positives going forward.
PNG Enthusiam v Samoan NRL Experience
There was a huge difference in the amount of NRL experience between the two sides. At times that did show, but for large parts of the game the Kumuls’ enthusiasm had them right in the match.
Samoa looked the better side early, but the Kumuls came into the game after 20 minutes or so, and their infectious enthusiasm in both attack and defence really troubled the Samoans.
You could look at a few direct comparison to see where that difference in NRL experience didn’t matter. Terry Wapi (who moved to fullback after Edene Gebbie had a nervous start) was great for PNG. Jamayne Isaako – by contrast – was quite ordinary for Samoa after recently declaring to play for them instead of New Zealand.
You could argue that for every forward in the Samoan side, there was a PNG equivalent giving it plenty. Except in the case of Martin Taupau, who was excellent as expected.
With Tests coming in the off-season, the Kumuls are going to benefit more from this, and they have a number of quality players who can come back from the UK – David Mead no less is one – and late key withdrawals Lachlan Lam and Justin Olam may be available. Samoa doesn’t seem to have too many players missing.
Halves are Half the Difference for Samoa
If the Kumuls had just that little more quality in the halves to find more points, they probably would have won.
Where Samoa could rely on the expert kicking game of Anthony Milford, and the skills of Chanel Harris-Tavita, the Kumuls had the less extravagant Edwin Epape and Kyle Laybutt. Although Edwin Epape did quite well for a player who can’t get a game for the Wynnum Seagulls in the Intrust Super Cup. The signs are good and perhaps worth keeping faith with.
PNG were missing Lachlan Lam – who pulled out with injury earlier in the week – and could rely on the ever-reliable Boas brothers in previous years. Could one of those players have made a difference, perhaps with Lachlan Lam?
Whilst on the halves, Milford did look particularly fired up for Samoa tonight, putting in some of the bigger hits for the match and roughing it with the Kumuls.
Nixon ‘Putts’ on a Show
Coming into the game, Nixon Putt was a lesser-known player, and he helped his chances of being more widely known after a powerhouse performance for the Kumuls. He was involved in everything: big hit ups, big tackles, and even key cover defense.
Putt was one of the Hunters’ best in 2018, was great in the Pacific Test win over Fiji last year, and has had a great season so far for the Norths Devils (a Broncos-affiliated side) in the Intrust Super Cup.
In a game where current Broncos bench player Jaydn Su’A failed to shine for Samoa, perhaps the Broncos could take a chance on him sometime this season. He certainly caught the eye of all the lesser-known PNG players.
More Internationals Please
If this weekend proves nothing else, it shows there should be more International rugby league.
Tonight’s game was the pick of the contests in terms of closeness, but all three games had plenty of skill and commitment.
The sooner the NRL gives us three stand-alone weekends with International rugby league on each of the them the better.
More top end players are nominating for second-tier nations (such as Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita, Jamayne Isaako, and Martin Taupau), and these nations are benefiting from it. Even the Kumuls, who don’t necessarily get that NRL experience opting to join them, have improved in the last few years with more regular competitive games.
The NRL seem to have an eye on this, but with even more attention, the rugby league World Cup could one day be as competitive as the rugby union version.
Tries: Jarome Luai, Josh Aloiai, Junior Paulo, Chanel Harris-Tavita
Goals: Jamayne Isaako 4/4
Drop Goals: n/a
PNG Kumuls 6
Tries: Terry Wapi
Goals: Rhyse Martin 1/1
Drop Goals: n/a
SAMOA: 1 Jamayne Isaako 2 Jorge Taufua 3 Hymel Hunt 4 Marion Seve 5 David Nofoaluma 6 Chanel Harris-Tavita 7 Anthony Milford 8 Junior Paulo 9 Jarome Luai 17 Josh Aloiai 11 Raymond Faitala-Mariner 12 Jaydn Su’A 13 Martin Taupau. Interchange: 14 Mason Lino 15 Michael Chee Kam 16 Herman Ese’ese 10 James Gavet.
PNG KUMULS: 1 Edene Gebbie 2 Junior Rau 3 Bernard Lewis 4 Xavier Coates 5 Terry Wapi 6 Edwin Epape 7 Kyle Laybutt 8 Enock Maki 9 James Segeyaro 10 Luke Page 11 Rhyse Martin 12 Nixon Putt 13 Moses Meninga. Interchange: 14 Kurt Baptiste 15 Zev John 16 Rhadley Brawa 17 Stanton Albert.