The PNG Hunters have enjoyed a dream Intrust Super Cup debut, stunning the highly fancied Redcliffe Dolphins 24-18 in round 1 action.
In other opening round fixtures Cowboys hopefuls Cameron King and Ricky Thorby each scored tries in the Northern Pride's 36-0 defeat of Sunshine Coast, Easts won the grand final rematch over Mackay 40-12, Norths defeated Ipswich in a gruelling encounter 22-16, Burleigh won at home 36-24 over the Capras and in the battle of the Seagulls, Wynnum Manly accounted for Tweed Heads 32-28.
At Redcliffe, all the pre-season excitement and anticipation surrounding the debut of rugby league’s latest experiment reached a crescendo at a packed Dolphin Oval. Curiosity had swept throughout the peninsula prior to kick-off as a healthy mixture of faithful Redcliffe supporters and a large contingent of PNG followers gathered on the surrounding hills.
What the crowd witnessed was a thoroughly professional and polished performance by the Hunters, who were physically imposing from kick-off.
One of the Dolphins forwards in the thick of the action was Brisbane Bronco David Hala, who was called from the bench in the 20th minute to throw his 109-kilogram frame at the enthusiastic PNG defence.
But even the 30-game NRL star struggled to deal with an imposing Hunters’ pack.
“It was a physical game out there. They came out firing and we couldn’t hold onto the ball or complete our sets,” Hala told NRL.com.
“It was a pretty good effort by the boys. We tried our best until the end, but credit to PNG who came out and got the win.”
PNG coach Michael Marum was obviously pleased with his side's first ISC outing, but hopes to keep the feet of his players firmly planted to the ground.
“I didn’t expect the boys to stand up like that for the first game,” Marum said.
“This is a good start to the competition and we will hope to build on that.”
The Hunters were greeted with a huge bipartisan roar from the fans as they took the field. They began the contest in enthusiastic fashion, dominating the opening five minutes and almost crossing the line, only to be held up on the last tackle.
The Hunters were unrelenting with their physical approach and slick ball movement, which soon paid dividends.
From a penalty the Hunters had Redcliffe backpedalling with fullback Adex Wera turning the ball back on the inside for PNG captain Israel Eliab to cross for the opener after 13 minutes.
The visitors doubled their lead to 12 less than five minutes later through Thompson Teteh. The PNG centre dashed down the left touchline, weaving his way infield and selling two beautiful dummies to the Redcliffe defence on his way to a 50-metre try under the posts.
The Dolphins managed a quick reply when winger Brett Coutts crossed out wide after being set up by skipper Marty Hatfield, Liam Georgetown nailing the sideline conversion to narrow the deficit to 12-6 after 20 minutes.
Redcliffe slowly began to claw their way back into the match and levelled the score on the half-hour mark when five-eighth Jake Marketo twisted his way over the line from close range.
A penalty adjacent to the posts inside the opening minute of the second half gifted PNG an easy two points, which they duly accepted to take the score to 14-12.
Two quick tries to the Hunters courtesy of winger Garry Lo and back-rower Lawrence Tu’u, both on the left edge, extended their lead to 22-12 with 30 minutes remaining.
The home side set up a nail-biting finish courtesy of a converted try to winger Monikura Tikinau and the contest ebbed and flowed throughout the next 15 minutes with Redcliffe often threatening the PNG line.
But in a positive indicator of their prospects in the competition, the Hunters' defence held strong and they soon bullocked their way down field, forcing the home side into conceding a penalty.
XXXX Man of the Match Sebatian Pandia stepped forward to take the shot, hit the left upright and saw the ball ricochet over the posts and seal an historic 24-18 victory.
The Hunters will now enjoy the next three rounds of the Intrust Super Cup at their home ground in Kokopo and could very well be undefeated after four rounds if they carry on with the style and substance they displayed against Redcliffe.