THE ABSOLUTE Enterprises Mackay Cutters produced one of their most spirited performances in recent memory in holding the high flying Papua New Guinea Hunters to a 28-28 draw at Stadium Mackay last night.
In what was their final home game of 2015 Intrust Super Cup season, the Cutters took a “nothing to lose” approach against the second-placed Hunters in what turned out to be one of the most enthralling contests of the season.
The Cutters came out swinging in the opening minutes of the game, utilising an aggressive gameplan early to rattle the big Hunters pack. It wasn’t long before their efforts were rewarded as a penalty deep inside the Hunters half gave Mackay their first crack at points. Hooker Josh Chudleigh showed great sleight of hand in catching the PNG defenders off-guard with a show-and-go from dummy half, crashing over from short range to open the scoring for the home team. Liam Taylor made no mistake with his conversion and it was 6-0 to Mackay.
Some ill-discipline inside their own half from the Cutters saw PNG gifted an opportunity to strike back. Hunters halfback Atte Bina lured the Mackay defenders in as he swept across field, before throwing a perfectly-timed short ball to Nickson Borana who brushed off two would-be tacklers to score for the visitors.
It was Groundhog Day for PNG a short time later though, as Chudleigh again squeezed under the PNG tacklers to score his second try of the game.
The physicality of the match was becoming apparent as the Hunters began to bash their way back into the contest with several bone rattling hits.
However, after surviving the onslaught at their own end of the field it was then the PNG’s turn to go hunting for points, and Bina was on-hand to provide the try for the visitors off the back of some slick passing close to the Cutters line. Zeming’s successful conversion put the Hunters in control of the game for the first time, 12 points to 10.
It was third time lucky for Jordan Pereira as the first half drew to a close, crossing the tryline untouched after some neat lead up play from Sam Clune and Justin Tavae.
The Hunters were determined to get on the front foot as the second half began and it was fullback Stargroth Amean that got them there, surging through a hole in the Cutters defensive line to put the game back in the balance. Zeming’s conversion pushed his team ahead 18-16.
The Cutters had shown their ability to bump and grind their way to points from close range, but they left the Hunters reeling when Alex Falepaini combined with Clune and Chris Gesch on an 80m surge to the try line that brought the home crowd to its feet.
PNG put the pressure back on themselves with a costly penalty a short time later, and North Queensland Cowboy import Matthew Wright turned battering ram as he powered over from 20m out to push the lead out further. Taylor’s kick extended the margin to 10 points with as many minutes remaining in the game.
With time fast becoming the enemy, the Hunters began playing the more expansive style of football they were known for, and the Cutters were found wanting when Amean combined with Thomson Teteh to set up a crucial try for the visitors. Zeming slotted the conversion and the margin was down to a single try.
The Hunters began turning the screws on Mackay, peppering the try line and forcing the Cutters to concede back-to-back sets in defence. PNG shifted the ball quickly against the weary Cutters defensive line, and the left edge defence simply ran out of numbers as Adex Wera planted the ball down in the right corner to level the game for PNG.
Zeming’s boot hadn’t let him down all night, but he pushed the crucial conversion wide of the posts to keep the scores locked at 28-apiece.
The Cutters threw caution to the wind as the final seconds of the game ticked down, but through the frantic hot-potato passing they couldn’t find a way through the PNG defence, and the teams were forced to share a solitary Intrust Super Cup competition point.
The result ends the Mackay Cutters hopes of a finals berth, while it also sees the PNG Hunters fall behind the Townsville Blackhawks into outright second place with one round of the regular season remaining.
MACKAY CUTTERS 28 (Josh Chudleigh 2, Jordan Pereira, Andrew Gay, Matthew Wright tries; Liam Taylor 4 goals) drew with PNG HUNTERS 28 (Stargroth Amean, Thompson Teteh, Adex Wera, Atte Bina, Nickson Borana tries; Noel Zeming 4 goals) at Stadium Mackay.
Mackay Cutters: 1. Liam Taylor 2. Jordan Pereira 3. Ben Jones 4. Justin Tavae 5. Buchanan Rawhiti 6. Aleki Falepaini 7. Sam Clune 8. Brad Lupi 9. Josh Chudleigh 10. Pulou Vaituutuu 11. Tyson Martin 12. Chris Gesch (c) 13. Steve Rapira 14. Joss Boyton 16. Andrew Gay 17. Josh Osborne 20. Matthew Wright
PNG Hunters: 1. Stargroth Amean 2. Oti Bland Tony 3. Noel Zeming 14. Thompson Teteh 5. Adex Wera 6. Israel Eliab (c) 7. Atte Bina 8. Henry Noki 9. Wartovo Puara 10. Esau Siune 11. Nickson Borana 12. Kato Ottio 13. Timothy Lomai 19. Roger Laka 16. Willie Minoga 15. Edward Goma 18. Warren Glare