THE PNG Hunters have returned to the winner’s circle with a 36-26 victory over Tweed Heads Seagulls in their round seven Intrust Super Cup match at Kalabond Oval, Kokopo.
After three games without a win – although one was a 20-20 draw against the Easts Tigers – the Hunters basked in celebration mode once again.
“A win is a win, it’s the two points we wanted,” coach Michael Marum said after the match.
The other two loses were to minor premiers Northern Pride 34-14 in Kokopo in round four and last week’s 25-12 result against Ipswich Jets at the North Ipswich Reserve.
All kind of mixed signals were been beamed out from the Hunters’ early form with some wondering whether the PNG side’s fairy-tale unbeaten run was for real.
But on Saturday the Hunters muscled up and showed that when they knuckle down – stick to their game plan the PNG side can be a destructive unit.
There were periods of the game where they dug themselves into a tight corner with uncharacteristic errors which Tweed Heads capitalised on to put the heat back on the home side.
Such was the case when despite opening up a handy 12-0 lead with tries through prop Timothy Lomai and halfback Roger Laka in the first quarter of the first half, the Hunters drifted off their game plan.
“There are some areas we need to work on,” Marum said.
To their credit the Seagulls orchestrated some smart play using their experienced men with tries to five-eighth Michael Burgess and winger Kalifa Faifai Loa to claw their way back.
A penalty goal to Jamal Fogarty locked the game up at 12-12 by the half-time period and the game became a wide-open contest once again.
Faifai Loa celebrated with a double putting his NRL experience to great use as he mesmerized his opposite George Benson – a side that the Seagulls exploited for most of their tries.
He picked up his second, an unconverted try in the opening minutes of the second half to put the Seagulls in front for the first time 16-12 and start the short period of see-saw for the lead.
Hunters’ hooker Wartovo Puara wrestled the advantage off the visitors, a try which interchange player Noel Zeming converted for 18-16 before centre Luke Dumas put the Seagulls back in the lead 20-18.
When “super sub” Willie Minoga powered over using brute strength to score and put the Hunters in front 22-20 the home side stepped up another gear in both attack and defence, which the Seagulls couldn’t match.
Lock Dion Aiye who had been quiet in the first half also shifted into top gear with incisive runs and smashing defence while man-of-the-match Laka was almost flawless with his kicks in general play – the Hunters started to look awesome.
When prop Gonzela Urakusie latched onto an inside ball to score and captain Israel Eliab who had set up Lomai’s opening try, crossed for his own contribution – the PNG side had opened up a sizeable 36-20 lead.
The Seagulls reduced the deficit in the dying minutes of the game with a consolation try but it made little difference as the two competition points were already safely locked away.
The Hunters now face a round double when they take on the Sunshine Coast next Sunday following by an Anzac day clash against the Burleigh Bears before their first bye round of the season.
PNG HUNTERS 36 (Israel Eliab, Roger Laka, Timothy Lomai, Wartovo Puara, Gonzela Urakusie, Willie Minoga tries; Noel Zemming 4, Roger Laka 2 goals) def TWEED HEADS SEAGULLS 26 (Kalifa Faifai Loa 2, Luke Dumas, Michael Burgess, Matt King tries; Jamal Fogarty, Blake Anderson, Cody Nelson goals) at Kalabond Oval, Kokopo.