The PNG Hunters continue to keep their hopes of scoring back-to-back titles alive with their sixth straight victory – which came in sensational circumstances against a brave Tweed Heads Seagulls at Piggabeen Sports Complex on Sunday.
The Hunters, behind 10-0 after 15 minutes, won 22-18, but only after Seagulls fullback Ali Grant was denied a score-levelling try in the final play of the match as the Gulls stormed home in the final 13 minutes.
The ball swung to the right and Grant slid outside the defence in the corner and got across the line as the defence scrambled. However, he didn’t realise how close to the stripe he was and tried to squeeze the ball behind him to a supporting player, only for the referee Michael Gordon to rule a knock on.
Only 90 seconds earlier, Hunters fullback Edene Gebbie looked to have sealed the result when he latched onto a Watson Boas grubber into the in-goal, but they were denied by the referee who ruled the ball had touched the dead ball line.
From the ensuing seven-tackle set from the 20m-tap, the Gulls worked downfield to put Grant, one of the team’s best on the day, into a try-scoring position.
Both teams scored four tries; but it was the goalkicking of Ase Boas that kept the Hunters in sixth position after starting the season poorly.
Seagulls coach Ben Woolf was left heartbroken that the outstanding defensive effort of a team missing players who had become Gulls regulars in Kane Elgey, Brendan Elliott (Titans) and the injured Lindon and Brayden McGrady, skipper Cheyne Whitelaw, Ryan Simpkins and Talor Walters was not rewarded with the points.
“We really dug in and didn’t have a lot go our way, but they broke us down only once on our line all day running onto a pass,” Woolf said.
“We had to defend our line on countless times so the effort was outstanding.
“It was one of our best efforts of the season, but a couple of dumb plays proved costly and some crucial calls didn’t go our way.”
The Seagulls were first on the board through Grant who dummied then slipped out of a couple of tackles from short range in the sixth minute. The play came off a big tackle by right centre Kody Parsons on his opposite Thompson Teteh.
Their second try came in the 13th minute through Parsons. Prop Leilani Latu stood in a tackle and slipped a late offload to Jack Cook, who found Eli Levido who sent the money ball to Parsons, who stepped off his right foot inside the covering defenders. Rex Johnson converted to give the home side a 10-0 lead.
It took a brilliant dart from dummy half just inside his own half by Wartovo Puara to get the Hunters back into the flow of the game. After breaking through on a short side, he found centre Adex Wera in support and he scored. Boas added the extras for 10-6.
The Hunters had all the momentum and most of the possession for the rest of the half. Boas added a penalty goal to make it 10-8 before, on the back of four straight penalties, right winger Brendon Gotuno crossed in the 35th minute after a clever shift to the right, giving the Hunters the lead for the first time at 12-10.
The Gulls only had themselves to blame for going further behind seven minutes into the second session.
Bryce Cartwright coughed up possession attempting offload and, in their next set of possession, Levido kicked with no cover and Hunters halfback Watson Boas charged him, picked up the rebound and ran 30 metres to score next to the posts.
His brother converted for the PNG side to record their 18th point without answer to take an eight-point lead.
After a tremendous defensive set on their own line after PNG received another repeat possession from a penalty, the Hunters picked up their fourth try in circumstances typical of the turning fortunes of the game.
Levido smothered an Ase Boas kick and came up with possession only to pass to Parsons who spilled the ball and watched Watson Boas pick up the scraps and wander over the line for a 22-10 lead.
Yet the Seagulls weren’t about to roll over. A penalty in the ruck saw them in Hunter’s territory for the first time for quarter of an hour and Cook scored a determined try after he bumped though two tackles after receiving the ball via an offload from Latu. However, Johnson missed an easy conversion attempt which would have had them within a converted try of their opponents, leaving the scores at 22-14.
In the set from the kick-off, Cartwright scored a fine individual try in typical style, getting the ball wide out on the right and dummying one-handed to no one, getting outside of the defence and running 30 metres to the corner. Levido attempted the conversion, but it went through wide for the Gulls to trail 22-18 to set up the frantic finish.
Next week; the Hunters are back at home and will host the competition’s others Seagulls in Wynnum Manly; while Tweed Heads travel to North Ipswich Reserve to take on the Jets.
PNG HUNTERS 22 (Watson Boas 2, Adex Wera, Brendon Gotuno tries; Ase Boas 3 goals) def TWEED HEADS SEAGULLS 18 (Alex Grant, Kody Parsons, Jack Cook, Bryce Cartwright tries; Rex Johnson goal) at Piggabeen Sports Complex.