SP PNG Hunters head to Maryborough on Saturday determined to again push Intrust Super Cup heavyweights Wynnum Manly Seagulls to the brink after their thrilling clash to open the season.
The Seagulls won their first nine matches in 2021, with their smallest winning margin a 2018 victory against the Hunters in Round 1. The Seagulls have since lost their past three games while their Brisbane Broncos-contracted players have been unavailable because of the NRL’s Covid bubble.
Wynnum’s recent form, and the Hunters’ memory of striking back from a 12-point deficit against them in Round 1, will give Matt Church’s outfit the confidence they are capable of an upset if they can find more consistency over 80 minutes.
The Hunters displayed some of their best attacking form against the Mackay Cutters last Saturday with six well-constructed team tries that took them to a 30-14 lead early in the second half, only seven days after an impressive 34-22 victory over eight-placed Northern Pride.
However, the inexperienced Hunters were outgunned in the last 25 minutes, conceding four converted tries.
Church says his team must use that as a reminder of how tough this competition is with any team capable of a win on any given day.
The Hunters have the advantage of skipper and lock Ila Alu back from injury (head knock) to lead the side for another country road trip and the services of prop Epel Kapinias (returning from an ankle injury) for only the eighth time this season.
“There is still a gap between our good performances and bad performances and last week showed that’s where we need to be better,” Church said.
“The week before we beat the Pride who then came out and beat Wynnum last weekend by 30 points. And we took Wynnum right to the last minute of the game in Round 1, so we know what we are capable when we get things right.”
Dilbert Isaac drops from the starting line-up to the interchange bench to make way for Alu while Kapinias replaces Sylvester Namo on the bench.
Wynnum Manly tonight named a team without its affiliated players from within the Broncos’ NRL bubble. Teams are still waiting to hear the NRL’s plans for their squads, who remain on the highest Level 1 Covid protocols. This means the players must remain within boundaries set by the NRL.
However, there is speculation that players will be able to leave the Covid bubble this week if the NRL is confident that Queensland’s Covid situation is stable. Queensland currently has no lockdowns in place.
The Seagulls did name Richie Kennar in the centres. The experienced NRL player left the Broncos’ Covid bubble recently and has been playing with the Seagulls.