SP PNG Hunters have been strengthened by the return of key backs Terry Wapi and Brendon Gutuno for Saturday’s Intrust Super Cup clash with Mackay Cutters at Bycroft Oval on Saturday.
The Queensland Rugby League declared that the Round 12 clash would go ahead despite today’s announcement of a three-day COVID lockdown in southeast Queensland and the Townsville region.
The QRL hopes the lockdown will lift as planned at 6pm Friday, enabling a full round to proceed after last weekend’s bye.
Winger Gutuno has been sidelined for the past 12 weeks after fracturing his arm in two places in the 26-14 Round 3 victory against the Cutters in Mackay while fullback Wapi has played only one match since Round 6 because of an ankle injury.
However, the Hunters will be without second-rower Keven Appo who discovered he had a leg infection after his ankle swelled up in the days after suffering an injury against Burleigh Bears at Cbus Super Stadium last round.
The inclusion of Wapi and Gutuno will give the Hunters welcomed extra experience as well as strike power as they mount their drive to the finals.
The 26-year-old Wapi has scored 12 tries in his 19 appearances since his debut in 2019 while Gutuno (32 appearances) has been a regular on the flank since 2018 and had scored three tries in his three matches this season.
Hunters coach Matt Church says he will field a backline that will feature as much experience as possible against the last-placed Cutters who are four points behind the Hunters on the ladder.
But Mackay have been competitive against several of the top teams.
“They were beaten 24-16 by Souths Logan, who are running fourth, and have also been competitive against others in the top half of the ladder, so we have to put in a good performance,” Church said.
“We’re ready to show the rewards for working pretty hard the last six games while we had a few hurdles to overcome.
“Adding Terry and Brendon gives us the most experienced backline possible with our current squad and it was worth resting Terry again after his one game back and ensuring he is back to full fitness with the ankle.
“He certainly creates opportunities from the back and we have missed what he brings to the table in attack.
He’s really excited to be back out there and Brendon has had a long stretch on the sideline since starting the season well and is keen to make his contribution.”
Joe Joshua, who filled in at fullback last round against Burleigh Bears, goes back to the wing with Solo Wane listed as 18th man.
The Cutters have named young North Queensland Cowboys forward Ben Condon in their squad.
If the COVID lockdown is extended beyond Friday, the QRL intends to make use of a bye weekend in late July to ensure the Intrust Super Cup can stay on track for 19 matches for each team before the finals.
Meanwhile, Hunters centre Jokadi Bire continues to improve in hospital on the Gold Coast after recent surgery. Bire is visited regularly by his Hunters teammates as he continues to make good progress.
He will be out for an indefinite period.