International eyes on Bears and PNG
Incoming Rugby League International Federation chief executive Nigel Wood was in the crowd as the Burleigh Bears moved four points clear at the top of the Intrust Super Cup ladder.
The Bears downed the PNG Hunters 34-18 at Pizzey Park.
Playing for the fifth annual Kokoda Cup, the Bears and Hunters produced a spectacle for a healthy crowd, with the home side finishing strongly and securing their seventh win of the season.
Three tries in the last 10 minutes saw the final margin stretch out to 16, which wasn't a reflection of the closeness of a game that saw the lead change on three occasions.
"We had to fight hard to win again and I thought we did that well and toughed it out courageously," Bears coach Jim Lenihan said.
"(The Hunters) are a strong, physical side that goes all day whether they're running or tackling. It was really pleasing that we were able to find a way to win when for a period it felt like everything was going against us."
RLIF appointment Wood was at Pizzey Park as part of a fact-finding tour before his official tenure commences, having met with PNG officials on Sunday morning.
Although his presence added to the occasion for the Hunters, Burleigh got away to a flying start, with Brenko Lee setting up Tyrone Roberts-Davis with a brilliant flick pass in the sixth minute.
Still without their regular fullback, five-eighth and halfback, the Bears backline was forced into another reshuffle with Jamie Dowling pushing into five-eighth.
Normally playing back row or centres in recent years, Dowling shone with a 16th minute try, taking the line on and forging his way over.
After a 20th minute try to Blake Leary the Bears looked set to run away with it, but three missed conversions meant the score was just 12-0.
The Hunters were starved of possession in the opening quarter, but once they got some ball they started to force their way back into the contest.
A well weighted grubber kick from Watson Boas sat perfectly for a flying Junior Rau to get the Hunters on the board in the 31st minute.
That try lifted the visitors who scored again when a Boas inside pass put Adex Wera through a gap and over the line to bring the scores to 12-10 at halftime.
PNG kept the roll going after halftime, with Butler Morris winning the race to another well-placed grubber kick, this time by Charlie Simon, and with a penalty goal shortly after the Hunters suddenly led by a converted try.
Momentum was well and truly on the side of PNG, but the Bears started to muscle up in defence, and slowly but surely started to turn the game back in their favour.
Sami Sauiluma powered to the corner in the 61st minute to level the scores, and in the 72nd minute the Bears retook the lead with a trick play.
Off a scrum, Sauiluma played possum by appearing to tie his shoelaces, before springing into action on the blindside and firing the ball out to Troy Leo who dove over.
Dylan Kelly pounced on a deflected grubber to score in the 76th minute, while Leo grabbed his second try of the day and his 14th try in 14 Intrust Super Cup appearances when he used blinding speed to race away in the 78th minute to seal a memorable Bears win.
In addition to extending their lead at the top of the ISC ladder, the Bears reclaimed the Kokoda Cup for the third time in five years.
Burleigh and PNG meet on Anzac weekend every year for what has become possibly the most important home game of the year for the Bears.
"To be a part of it, whether it's on Anzac Day or not, I think is always a wonderful occasion for us," Lenihan said
The Bears travel to Townsville next week, while PNG have the bye.
BURLEIGH BEARS 34 (Troy Leo 2, Tyronne Roberts-Davis, Jamie Dowling, Blake Leary, Sami Sauiluma, Dylan Kelly tries; Tyronne Roberts-Davis 3 goals) def PNG HUNTERS 18 (Junior Rau, Adex Wera, Butler Morris tries; Charlie Simon 3 goals) at Pizzey Park.