Photo: Maria Girgenti
By Rhys O'Neill - courtesy of The Cairns Post
NORTHERN Pride have withstood a pro-PNG crowd and a whirlwind Hunters winger to crash the visitors’ party with a 36-18 win in front of a record Barlow Park attendance.
PNG are notoriously poor Intrust Super Cup travellers and the Pride akin to a sure thing at their northern fortress, and so it proved in the result.
Not even the strong pro-Hunters contingent among the 4390 fans could conjure an upset as the hosts produced one of their most complete performances this season.
The buzz around the ground was somewhat silenced early when Kyle Feldt crashed over in the sixth minute.
And you could hear a pin drop as Blake Leary bagged the first of his two tries after a mazy Jason Roos dash.
With props Ben Spina and Alex Starmer getting through more metres than a rent-a-car, Javid Bowen virtually strolled over as the visitors looked like being demolished.
But a fortunate kick rebound led to Garry Lo sprinting clear – the first of a remarkable four Hunters tries.
Trailing 18-6 at the break, things didn’t look like getting any better for PNG as Hezron Murgha – in his best game this season – tumbled over.
A Sheldon Powe-Hobbs break led to Nona’s try, before Lo’s five-minute solo effort revived PNG hopes.
The explosive 20-year-old crossed three times in five frenetic minutes as the Pride started to rock.
But an epic comeback was not to be, as Roos set up Leary to almost exactly match the scoreline when the teams met at Kalabond Oval in round 4.
“Today had the potential to go wrong for us,” Pride coach Jason Demetriou said.
“They had lost their last two so we knew they’d be hungry in front of a big crowd.
“But I was happy with how our boys took to the challenge.
“If we had dropped as much ball as we had last week we would have been struggling.
“But in the first half I thought we were pretty clinical – it was probably the first time in ages we’ve come up with single-figure errors so I’m pretty happy with that.
“And I thought defensively we were outstanding.”
Roos said the match was fitting of the grand occasion.
“The crowd was awesome. You could see when they got a bit of a run at the end they came alive,” he said.
“It was a great game of footy to watch. There was a lot of end-to-end stuff and some great tries.”
With five Queensland Residents players, a new-look Pride will tackle Easts in Mareeba next Saturday.
“That’s the challenge – we’ll find out how good our squad is,” Demetriou said.
“In the back end of last year we lost a few key players and it really affected us.
“There are guys who are itching to play and they want and opportunity.
“Well, here it is.”
NORTHERN PRIDE 36 (Blake Leary 2, Hezron Murgha, Kyle Feldt, Javid Bowen, Shaun Nona, Tyrone McCarthy tries; Shaun Nona 4 goals) def PNG HUNTERS 18 (Garry Lo 4 tries; Noel Zemming goal) at Barlow Park.
Northern Pride: 1. Hezron Murgha 22. Kyle Feldt 3. Davin Crampton 4. Javid Bowen 5. Semi Tadulala 6. Shaun Nona 7. Sam Obst 8. Ben Spina 9. Jason Roos (c) 10. Alex Starmer 11. Blake Leary 12. Tyrone McCarthy 13. Jack Svendsen 14. Ryan Ghietti 15. Ricky Thorby 16. Sheldon Powe-Hobbs 21. Latu Fifita
PNG Hunters: 1. Adex Wera 2. Garry Lo 3. Noel Zemming 4. Israel Eliab (c) 5. Edward Goma 6. Dion Aiye 7. Roger Laka 8. Willie Minoga 9. Wartovo Puara 10. Esau Siune 11. George Benson 12. David Loko 13. Adam Korave 14. Lawrence Tu'u 18. Brandy Peter 16. Sebastian Pandia 17. Jason Tali