This story appeared first on NRL.com
By Tony Webeck
Their expansive, no-holds-barred style of play lit up the Intrust Super Cup in 2014 but the inclusion of the PNG Hunters into Queensland Rugby League's premier competition is having its greatest influence back home.
The addition of the Hunters for the first time last season not only gave the Intrust Super Cup a new flavour that was feverishly feasted upon by thousands of footy fans at Queensland grounds and those watching on Channel Nine but gave Papua New Guinea's national sport a previously unimagined pathway to the big time.
The Hunters will open their second Intrust Super Cup campaign against Souths Logan at Davies Park on Sunday with Round 1 to be highlighted by the grand final rematch between Easts and the Northern Pride and the debut of the Townsville Blackhawks at home against Mackay.
In their inaugural season in 2014 the Hunters won 14 of their 24 games and missed out on a finals berth by a single competition point but the QRL's head of competitions, Jamie O'Connor, says their impact has been felt greatest in PNG.
O'Connor was one of the key figures from the QRL in ensuring the inclusion of a team from PNG went from dream to reality and said the greatest satisfaction he has drawn ahead of their second season is how it is impacting youth in PNG.
O'Connor's first foray into the possibility of a Hunters team came in May 2013 and said to return to Kokopo in March last year for the team's first home game at Kalabond Oval was a moment of great satisfaction.
"The first emotion for me was that I was extremely proud," O'Connor told NRL.com.
"There had been a lot of people internally (at the QRL) and in PNG who had worked really, really hard to get to the point where we could have a game over there so first and foremost I was extremely proud to know that we had been involved and to know we were making a huge difference to an entire country to be honest.
"It was an opportunity for us to give the people of PNG access to a level of football that would see their whole national program from kids to Kumuls advance. They saw it as vital to their Kumuls program and the development of that but also vitally important to their junior and schools programs.
"It gives kids all across the country that vision that they can push through a junior or school program, come into the talent ID programs of the Hunters and the Kumuls and gives them access to be able to progress.
"It goes into social welfare as well and giving the people of PNG something to look forward to on a week-to-week basis from a rugby league perspective."
NRL legend Scott Sattler is a member of the Channel Nine commentary team that broadcasts the Intrust Super Cup match of the round every Sunday throughout Queensland and said their inclusion was "a breath of fresh air".
The Hunters' clash with the Bears in Burleigh on Anzac Day was one of the great rugby league experiences of 2014 and Sattler said it was an atmosphere that followed them everywhere they went.
"It's a festival. The crowd brought a carnival-type atmosphere to whatever ground it was," said Sattler.
"Even the dullest game, it makes the game more exciting when you've got that atmosphere in the stands and you talk to some of the players that played in some of those days when they had the bigger crowds and it was one of the highlights in their short careers to play in front of such a patriotic crowd.
"The amount of support that the Hunters generated, not only by their own countrymen and families but rugby league purists who wanted to come along and see how rugby league used to be played, which was free and easy, was fantastic.
"I think Channel Nine should cover a game [in PNG] so people in Australia can also experience on the screen what it's like over there in regards to their patriotic support of their team.
"I've been over there for a couple of charity matches and I was blown away by the people and how much the game is a religion over there."
The Hunters' first game of the 2015 season is against Souths Logan in Brisbane and will host Redcliffe in Round 2 in Kokopo.
The Hunters will continue to play their home games at Kokopo through until after the completion of the South Pacific Games in Port Moresby on July 18 at which point O'Connor is hopeful they will move to the nation's capital.
"Whether we get to Moresby before July or not I'm not too sure but if things work out with the South Pacific Games and the Hunters get access to those stadiums post South Pacific Games then we would expect that Moresby would host games at some point this year," O'Connor said.