The PNG Hunters suffered their first loss in the Intrust Super Cup when competition leaders Northern Pride pulled off a hard-fought 34-18 win in Kokopo.
The loss put a dent in the competition newcomer’s roller-coaster ride, which was highlighted by three wins from three games.
It was also sweet revenge for the Pride, particularly for coach Jason Demetriou who finally got one over his arch rival Michael Marum.
Forty-year-old Marum has been a nemesis to Demetriou, guiding Agmark Gurias to 29-22 win over Pride in 2013 during an off-season trial and last month delivered a similar blow to the Cairns-based side 26-16 in the Far North Queensland capital in the Hunters pre-season trial.
This time away from home it was Demetriou’s turn to be celebrating as his team won the wrestle for the outright leadership in the top-of-the-table clash following the six tries-to-three victory.
But in front of the largest crowd since Kalabond Oval has hosted visiting Queensland sides, the game was in the balance at half-time with the scores locked at 12-all.
The Pride, realising that if they continued to use their taller forwards and sent away offloads in tackles, lifted their tempo in attack around the Hunters ruck area and used grubber kicks behind the opposition’s defence – the points would come.
And that is exactly how the game unfolded as forward Tyrone McCarthy celebrated with a double with an imposing performance.
Fellow forwards Ethan Lowe, Blake Leary and Ben Spina also did their part with halfback Sam Obst and five-eighth Shaun Nona pointing their team to which side of the field to launch their attacks.
Nona had a solid game picking up a personal tally of 14 points from a try and five goals.
Centre Davin Crampton was a busy man stealing important metres and was rewarded with a try as were wingers Justin Castellaro and Javid Bowen.
Hunters coach Marum admitted that they went down to a better side on the day.
The Hunters gave themselves every chance to beat last year’s minor premiers but undid the positive foundation they created with basic errors.
“In defence we were not slowing them down,” Marum said.
The Pride gained crucial metres in the middle of the ruck and the quick-play-the-balls forced the Hunters into giving away penalties which provided the visitors the ascendency to continue the roll in the second half.
The weather was also kind to them in the closing 40 minutes as it rained and became cooler compared to the unbearable heat in the first stanza. The Pride continued to revel in the conditions to put the finishing touches to the advantage.
Scorers for the Hunters were wingers Garry Lo, George Benson and forward David Loko, while Noel Zemming kicked three goals.
“They (Pride) are a very good side, that’s why they are on top of the ladder,” Marum said.
The Hunters were told after the match to put that loss behind them get back into the routine as they prepare for the fifth round clash against 2013 grand finalists Easts Tigers next weekend.
The next game is also an away match against Ipswich Jets before they return to Kalabond on April 12.
NORTHERN PRIDE 34 (Tyrone McCarthy 2, Justin Castellaro, Davin Crampton, Javid Bowen, Shaun Nona tries; Shaun Nona 5 goals) def PNG HUNTERS 18 (Garry Lo, George Benson, David Loko tries; Noel Zemming 3 goals) at Kalabond Oval, Kokopo.