Another disappointing loss by the SP PNG Hunters, who were beaten by Kenfrost Homes Northern Pride 22-16 in front of a heaving crowd at the Santos National Football Stadium (NFS) over the weekend on Saturday 27th May.
Kicking off a stretch of four games at the spiritual home of rugby league in Port Moresby, the Hunters ran out to an early lead but couldn’t overcome two sinbins and an injury to talismanic skipper Ila Alu.
In contrast, the Pride made the most of their opportunities after the break to score three second half tries as the rain began to fall on the Santos NFS turf.
The visitors jagged an early try through Will Partridge in the left-hand corner, with the winger icing a smooth backline movement which stripped the Hunters for numbers on their own line.
Partridge converted his own try to give the Pride a six-point lead after five minutes.
It was all the Hunters from there, though. Shrugging off the early scoreboard pressure, the proud PNG-based club roared to life thanks largely to the involvements of halfback Jamie Mavoko.
Making just his 17th QRL Hostplus Cup appearance, Mavoko’s continual development was on show as he steered the Hunters across the park and kicked smartly to end their sets.
It wasn’t long before the Hunters found themselves in attacking field position thanks to Mavoko’s influence, and the halfback set up PNG’s first points from there.
With Yakopa demanding attention from the defence and Morea a constant threat out the back, Mavoko dragged two defenders over the line to score his first try in the QRL Hostplus Cup.
A challenging conversion attempt just missed the left upright, leaving PNG with a 10-6 lead midway through the first half and with Mavoko threatening on the edges and Wesser Tenza scheming around the ruck, PNG quickly found themselves back on the attack.
The defence had no answer for Tenza’s speed and strength as the Hunters took a 16-6 lead into the break, following Mavoko’s successful conversion.
Unfortunately for the Hunters, they couldn’t maintain their rage through until fulltime.
The weather turned at the break as the clouds opened up and a light drizzle settled over the Stadium.
Overcome by a weight of possession and field position, the Hunters looked like mounting another unlikely comeback when bench utility Sanny Wabo made two line breaks late in the piece, but neither led to points as the Pride scrambled desperately in defense.
In the end, the Hunters were asked to play with 12 men for two separate 10-minute periods and the subsequent fatigue was too much to overcome.
The loss of Ila Alu – one of PNG’s most productive yardage merchants and an important link man between the ruck and the edges – also hurt, as the Hunters battled against the odds to maintain their lead to the siren.
The Hunters will play their next home game at the Santos NFS against the Tweed Seagulls on Saturday 3rd June.