Papua New Guinea took revenge over last year’s loss to Fiji by winning the 2016 edition 24-22 in an entertaining match at Parramatta Stadium.
Whilst there wasn’t the same pre game hype or theatrics for the first game of the Pacific Nations double header, it certainly didn’t lack in the excitement and quality of viewing that one has to come expect from a clash between these two nations. And the musical pre game ritual from the Bati was a unique and tremendous way to start a game.
The early part of the game was all about the PNG side as they posted the first try to Watson Boas, a newcomer to the PNG side after making his debut for the PNG Hunters this season, in the fifth minute. The easy conversion under the posts was followed up a few minutes with a penalty kick that gave the PNG side an eight point lead they deserved.
It lasted for eight minutes as the Fijians hit back with their first try of the evening after a big run from the Fijian lock Eloni Vunakece. Like after the Kumuls first try, a penalty kick followed a few minutes later, and the game was deadlocked at 8-8.
During this time the game gave its TV Highlight to match Marika Koroibete’s hit on Willie Minoga last year, as a break from Brayden Williame was halted abruptly with a tackle from David Mead that looked like it took the wind out of both players and half the crowd in attendance. They try saving effort from Mead on Tyrone Phillips later in the half was just as good a highlight also.
The back end of the first half belonged to Fiji, with the perfect cross-field ending in a try to winger Etuate Qionimacawa in the 29th minute, and he doubled up from a kick three minutes from the break as the Fijians took advantage of an extra man after the sin binning of Justin Olam. The Fijians had a 16-8 half time lead and looked as in control of the game as last year’s match when they had an 18-0 half time lead.
The Kumuls came out firing in the second half, and it didn’t take long for PNG to reduce the half time deficit to 16-14 through Kato Ottio after some great lead up work from fellow Raider contracted Kurt Baptiste. 10 minutes later in the 52nd minute the excellent halfback Watson Boas crashed over for the second time and the Kumuls had now hit the front 18-16
PNG were now on a roll, and Watson Boas almost got an international hat-trick two minutes later but for a quickly penalised double movement. This seemed to spark both sides into the side to side and end to end football that these sides promise, one fine example of what these sides have to offer is when Wartovo Puara made a huge break through the middle but while looking for support threw the perfect intercept for Fiji to return fire, which didn’t end in a try but the game was becoming more of a spectacle.
Fiji had plenty of chances to hit back with field position on the back of penalties, but errors with a certain try looming. As so often happens in rugby league when chances aren’t taken, the PNG side were next to score through Titan Nene McDonald in the 71st minute, and with the successful important conversion the PNG fans were whipped into a frenzy with an eight point lead.
Those fans were quietened somewhat with 5 minutes to go as an uncontested bomb fell into Fiji’s hands and Etuate Qionimacawa secured his hat trick, and the game was anyone’s for the taking as PNG led by 24-22. But that was the final score as the Kumuls were able to hold off the Bati and take a popular and overdue win. It may just give them enough spark to jump ahead of Serbia in the World Rankings.
The summary is that both of these sides provided great entertainment, and although neither will win next year’s World Cup, the performances on Saturday will bode well for the upcoming World Cup next year and having competitive fixtures before the semi-finals. If only the one off double header could be expanded into a four nations style tournament. Make State of Origin stand alone on a Sunday and you have the perfect gap for the remaining three rounds.
Papua New Guinea 24 (Watson Boas 2, Kato Ottio, Nene MacDonald tries; Ase Boas 4 goals) defeated Fiji 22 (Etuate Qionimacawa 3, Eloni Vunakece, tries; Sitiveni Moceidreke 2, Maurice Kennedy 1 goals) at Pirtek Stadium. Half-time: 16-8 Fiji.