The PNG Hunters completed a stunning comeback with a last minute try to steal a 38-32 victory away from the Burleigh Bears at Pizzey Park on ANZAC Day.
In front of a big crowd the Bears and Hunters put on a show, with 12 tries scored between the two teams on the day.
Burleigh looked to be in the driver’s seat when they shot out to a 30-10 lead shortly after half time, but the Hunters showed plenty of spirit to run down the win and walk away with the second annual Kokoda Cup.
It came all the way down to the final minute, with Stargroth Amean scoring the winning try with just seconds remaining.
“It was a good second half comeback,” Hunters coach Michael Marum said.
“I think everyone dug deep in the second half and we completed most of our sets. It was a good effort from everybody in the team.
“We spoke about the first half performance in the dressing sheds and all the heads were down, but we basically told them that we still had 40 minutes left to play and win this game.
“After we scored our first try in the second half I think that motivated everyone to get stuck in and start putting in the extra efforts.”
While the Hunters eventually took home the spoils, the Bears controlled much of the contest especially in the early exchanges.
Kevin Gordon bookended the opening half with tries in the sixth and 34th minutes, while Tyler Chadburn and Brad Tighe both crossed in between.
But for a brief flurry, which included tries to Israel Eliab and Adex Wera in back-to-back sets, the Bears were well on top and had all the momentum going in to the break.
Straight after the break the Bears were in again as interchange prop Josh Ailaomai stormed off the bench and over the tryline to extend Burleigh’s lead to 20 points.
At this stage the Bears looked set to roll on and cruise to victory, but the Hunters had other ideas as they started to claw their way back.
Thompson Teteh and Willie Minoga scored in back-to-back sets, bringing the visitors to life, and Henry Noki crossed shortly after to cut the margin back to just two.
A second try for skipper Eliab gave the Hunters their first lead of the day with just over 10 minutes left in the contest.
Burleigh drew level through a penalty goal in the dying minutes, but Amean’s last minute try broke Bear hearts and sent the visitors home with the Kokoda Cup.
It was the second time in three weeks the Bears have given up handy leads at home and coach Jim Lenihan said the Bears won’t be a top side until they learn to close games out.
“We might have improved a little bit, but our level of maturity to finish off games is still struggling,” he said.
“We’ve just got to be better at finishing the game. We knew exactly how (PNG) were going to play and we stuck to what we needed to do for a lot of it, but we just had an inability to finish the game off when it really counted, then we lost control of it and then we couldn’t fight control back.
“We’re a team that is improving, there is no doubt about that, but we’ve still got to improve mentally, improve our focus and improve how we finish a game off. Today we were unable to close out a game that was well and truly ours to take.”
Earlier in the day the Sunshine Coast Falcons defeated Gold Coast White in the semi-finals of the Cyril Connell Cup and the Burleigh Colts romped to another big win; 54-18 over Norths.
PNG HUNTERS 38 (Israel Eliab 2, Stargroth Amean, Thompson Teteh, Adex Wera, Henry Noki, Willie Minoga tries; Noel Zeming 5 goals) def BURLEIGH BEARS 32 (Kevin Gordon 2, Brad Tighe, Tyler Chadburn, Josh Ailaomai tries; Tyler Chadburn 6 goals) at Pizzey Park.
Burleigh Bears: 1. Todd Seymour 2. Zach Mackay 3. Brad Tighe 4. Connor Broadhurst 5. Kevin Gordon 6. Tyler Chadburn 7. Ryley Jacks 8. David Hala 9. Tyron Haynes 10. Pele Peletelese 11. Ayden Lee 12. Jason Chan 13. Darren Griffiths (c) 14. Tom Rowles 16. Louis Fanene 17. Josh Ailaomai 20. Kyle McConnell
PNG Hunters: 1. Stargroth Amean 2. David Lapua 3. Noel Zeming 18. Thompson Teteh 5. Adex Wera 6. Israel Eliab (c) 7. Atte Bina 8. Henry Noki 9. Wartovo Puara 10. Esau Siune 11. Kato Ottio 12. Brandy Peter 14. Roger Laka 15. Lawrence Tu'u 16. Willie Minoga 17. Adam Korave 19. Ase Boas