PNG Kumuls ensured Great Britain’s tour ended winless with a sensational upset victory that was full deserved in Port Moresby. It capped a great day for PNG Rugby League as the Orchids won their match against Great Britain earlier in the day.
The Lions match didn’t get off the greatest start when rugby league’s most experienced current player James Graham leaving the field under the concussion test after attempting to tackle a steaming Luke Page on the first hit up of the game. They were under quite some pressure early as the PNG side really tested their defensive resolve, but the Kumuls couldn’t turn it into points.
Great Britain eventually took more control of the game and they were the first team to put on points in the 14th minute through makeshift winger Blake Austin on his second attempt of the afternoon to get past PNG winger Stargroth Amean after a simple passing movement down the left. Not long after England doubled down through Josh Hodgson when he ran dummy half run 10 metres out. The Lions had a 10-0 lead after 23 minutes. Surely they were on for a comfortable win despite PNG’s early enthusiasm. Right?
Wrong. They didn’t score another point.
England thought they were winding down the clock before half time, when back up hooker Edwin Ipape grabbed the ball from dummy half with just a few seconds to go and ran 70 metres through the middle of the field to score under the posts and make the half time deficit just four points.
A key moment in most Kumuls games over the past few years has been the 15 minute period after the half time break where they are usually at their best, and this time they simply blew away the Lions. They laid on three tries in 11 minutes, two off perfectly weighted grubber collected by Watson Boas and Justin Olam respectively, and the final try of the trilogy went to a deserving Alex Johnston after the Kumuls scrambled best. With more than 20 minutes to go, the Kumuls were a scarcely believable 22-10 up.
By this stage PNG looked like scoring with just about every set, and the Lions were making basic errors. One of those led to a Nixon Putt try which sent the crowd into a frenzy in the 66th minute. He was on the scene to take advantage of a spilled bomb by Lions fullback Zac Lomax. Great Britain at this stage of the game had simply been blown away by the Kumuls.
The Lions did try and reduce the deficit, but failed as the Kumuls defence refused to allow any more points, indeed they kept Great Britain pointless from the 22nd minute. Pointless being a decent description on the Lions Tour.
PNG were outstanding, and thoroughly deserved the big upset win. Not just a small win either, a dominant 28-10 win over Tier One opponents.
END OF THE ROAD FOR BENNETT?
It would be fair to say that the Great Britain tour has been very ordinary if not a complete disaster and even before the game there were doubts over his stewardship. It would be unfair to say it is all Wayne Bennett’s fault, but the way the Lions were simply outplayed with their roster of experience was a sign of team that perhaps needs a new direction.
BEGINNING OF GREAT NEW ERA FOR KUMULS?
In all reality, it was a stunning win by the Kumuls on Saturday against Great Britain. The Lions side was full of players of the highest calibre and this was no fluke, no lucky win. It was a win full deserved. PNG do manage to get at least one win every season, so why not save it for the biggest game in front of your home fans. PNG looked full of confidence. Maybe it was the home crowd, maybe it was the addition of the experienced David Mead for this game and Alex Johnston in the previous, or Michael Marum taking on just the national coaching job now, but it simply worked against Great Britain, and may it work for many more years.
EDENE GEBBIE IS GOING TO PROVIDE MUCH JOY FOR RABBITOHS FANS NEXT SEASON
One personal positive Wayne Bennett could take out of Saturday’s game was the PNG Kumuls flyer Edene Gebbie who has grown in confidence over the Kumuls two Tests, and looked dangerous just about every time he touched the ball against the Lions. Throw in some perfect grubbers, one leading to the Watson Boas try, and you have someone ready to burst into mainstream NRL attention in 2020. Impact from the back three was certainly something lacking from Souths in 2019.
Not to mention just how good Alex Johnston was for PNG too. Either way, these two could push the Rabbitohs further in 2020.
PACIFIC NATIONS RISE
The end of season Internationals have been great for the second tier Pacific Nations teams. Tonga beat both Australia and New Zealand, Fiji looked strong and took two good wins, and the Kumuls result tonight puts the icing on the cake. It is no coincidence that since the rules of who could play for which nation were relaxed and these teams simply started playing more games that they are all getting better. And it is great for rugby league. Who could deny the amount of joy that the Kumuls win tonight brought, ditto for Tonga’s heroics. The only conclusion can be – more games, every year, let’s not lose the momentum. The often discussed four way Pacific Nations running in tandem with Standalone State of Origins is a great start. Or more games somehow.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA KUMULS 28
Tries: E. Ipape, W. Boas, J. Olam, A. Johnston, N. Putt
Goals: R. Martin 4/5
GREAT BRITAIN LIONS 10
Tries: B. Austin, J. Hodgson
Goals: G Widdop
PAPUA NEW GUINEA KUMULS: 1 Alex Johnston 2 Edene Gebbie 3 David Mead 4 Justin Olam 5 Stargroth Amean 6 Kyle Laybutt 7 Watson Boas 8 Wellington Albert 9 Wartovo Puara 10 Luke Page 11 Nixon Putt 12 Dan Russell 13 Rhyse Martin
Interchange: 14 Edwin Ipape 15 Garry Lo 16 Stanton Albert 17 Moses Meninga
GREAT BRITAIN LIONS: 1 Jonny Lomax 2 Jermaine McGillvary 3 Jack Hughes 4 Jake Connor 5 Blake Austin 6 Gareth Widdop 7 Jackson Hastings 8 Chris Hill 9 Josh Hodgson 10 Thomas Burgess 11 John Bateman 12 Elliott Whitehead 13 James Graham
Interchange: 15 Luke Thompson 17 Alex Walmsley 18 Joe Philbin 19 George Williams