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Family ties behind rise of Hunters

by Tony Webeck

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When the PNG Hunters entered the Intrust Super Cup in 2014, they gathered players from all corners of Papua New Guinea and placed them in a camp on the island of Kokopo so that they could concentrate solely on their rugby league development.

In missing out on qualifying for the finals in their first season in 2014 by one point (then a top-five system), you would have to say that their method of preparation was pretty effective.

However, coach Michael Marum believes a more flexible environment this year has put them just one win from the grand final on September 24.

The minor premiers host Redcliffe at Port Moresby's National Football Stadium this Sunday where Marum predicts the ground capacity of 25,000 to be reached and many more passionate Hunters fans left outside the gates.

Although they have lost all three finals matches they have played to date, Marum believes the balance they achieved with life away from the team this year has enabled his players to deliver on a more consistent basis in 2017.

Players such as captain Ase Boas, hooker Wartovo Puara, Willie Minoga and Wellington Albert have now been exposed to high-level rugby league for a number of years and Marum says a more concerted effort to connect regularly with family has brought out their best in 2017.

“We all come together and live in the city and we leave our families behind. That’s one thing that we always think about,” Marum said.

“The main thing for us is that we know it gets a bit lonely for the players to be away from their families, so that's one main area we've been looking at.

“Making sure we keep communicating with all of our families, telling them that we're going to be coming home really soon.

“During the bye weekends, we normally just have the week off and send the boys away to see their families but sometimes there are other issues that come up with the families.

“When someone is not feeling well, we speak to them and see how they're doing and stuff like that.”

With three games of the Rugby League World Cup to be played in Moresby later this year, it is arguably the most significant year for Papua New Guinea’s national sport.

Almost 13,000 fans turned out to see the Hunters play Wynnum Manly in their last game of the regular season and with a win guaranteeing a direct path to the grand final at Suncorp Stadium, Marum expects the city to be buzzing.

The grand final of the local Digicel Cup competition will be held at the National Football Stadium 24 hours before the Hunters take the field and Marum has encouraged his players to embrace the atmosphere and not be overawed by it.

“After we beat Wynnum up there and we realised we got the minor premiership wrapped, up there was excitement all around the country,” Marum said.

“At the stadium, we could feel the atmosphere coming in. We had a lot of important people there including the prime minister and everywhere you walk around there is a lot of talk and everyone is really looking forward to the game.

“There's a bit more pressure on us to get the job done. We're expecting a big crowd; I think it's going to be a sell-out.

“We had close to 13,000 people there for the Wynnum Manly game so I know the stadium will be filled up and there will be a lot of people standing outside.

“That's their last chance to see us play this year and seeing as the team has done well, they will be out there in numbers to come in and support us.”

Did you know?

If their two meetings this year are anything to go by, don't be surprised if it takes a field goal to split Easts and Sunshine Coast on Sunday afternoon. The Storm affiliates kicked off their 2017 campaign against each other in Round 1 and played out an extraordinary 7-7 draw; Guy Hamilton's field goal in the 77th minute cancelling out that of Easts halfback Brodie Croft three minutes earlier. When they met again in Round 17 it was another thriller, with Brayden Torpy's 79th-minute field goal securing a 17-16 win for Easts on home soil.

A former editor of Big League, Tony Webeck is the Chief Queensland Correspondent for NRL.com.