SEA Swift Northern Pride have learned what it takes to be a top-six side following a 36-16 loss to PNG in Kokopo yesterday.
Square at 10-10 at the break, the Hunters produced a second-half blitz to remind the Intrust Super Cup premiers that there are no shortcuts at this level.
After four straight wins, the tough away trip returned the Pride to earth ahead of a round 10 bye.
Luke George grabbed a brace in the first 40 minutes to continue his try avalanche before the hosts – backed by more than 4000 local fans – made their move.
PNG opened up a 26-16 lead with 20 minutes remaining as their ab-lib style overwhelmed the visitors as much as the steamy conditions.
“The first half went to plan,” coach Joe O’Callaghan said.
“We spoke at half-time how important it was to go with them in the first 10 or 15 minutes of the second half.
“But a combination of two or three things let us down.
“Our last tackle options weren’t good enough, which is disappointing after last week.
“(The Hunters) threw a couple of miracle balls and a few of our guys switched off.
“It comes back to accountability and there was a bit of finger pointing going on. Those little things cost us.”
O’Callaghan, though, reckons his side got a dose of what to expect should they make the finals.
He hailed rapidly improving backrower Dave Murphy, newcomer Regan Verney and in-form powerhouse Vaipuna Tia-Kilifi for battling hard in trying conditions.
“It was a tougher standard of football because they are probably a top-six side,” O’Callaghan said of the Hunters.
“If they keep winning up here they will make semis.
“There’s talk about disharmony up here after Tassell (former CEO Brad Tassell) left, but I can’t see any of that.
“They are a side I would hate to be playing in a finals game.”
The trip got off to an uncomfortable start when the Pride had a flight delayed before reaching Kokopo.
There may yet be more bad news with winger Semi Tadulala reporting he heard a snap in his hamstring and will have tests once the team arrives back in Cairns this afternoon.
O’Callaghan said next weekend’s bye was welcome.
“Even if we had won I think we need it,” he said.
“The momentum and two points would have been handy, but we’ll get guys like Ando (co-captain Brett Anderson) back.
“Every other team has had one and we have got a big few weeks coming up.”
PNG HUNTERS 36 (Adex Wera 2, Noel Zeming, Ase Boas, Wartovo Puara, Kato Ottio, Willie Minoga tries; Noel Zeming 3, Oti Bland Tony goals) def NORTHERN PRIDE 16 (Luke George 2, Patrick Kaufusi tries; Javid Bowen 2 goals) at Kalabond Oval, Kokopo.
PNG Hunters: 1. Stargroth Amean 2. Oti Bland Tony 3. Noel Zeming 4. Thompson Teteh 5. Adex Wera 6. Israel Eliab (c) 7. Ase Boas 8. Henry Noki 9. Wartovo Puara 10. Esau Siune 11. Kato Ottio 12. Brandy Peter 13. Adam Korave 14. Roger Laka 15. Lawrence Tu'u 16. Willie Minoga 17. Timothy Lomai
Northern Pride: 1. Linc Port 2. Semi Tadulala 3. Javid Bowen 4. Dean McGilvray 5. Luke George 6. Ryan Ghietti 7. Sam Obst 8. Jack Svendsen 9. Jason Roos (c) 20. Patrick Kaufusi 11. Vaipuna Tia Kilifi 12. Regan Verney 13. David Murphy 14. Cameron King 15. Tom Hancock 16. Sheldon Powe Hobbs 17. Alex Starmer
*Thanks to The Cairns Post