The SP PNG Hunters couldn’t claim a win over premiership leaders Burleigh Bears in Round 17 of the QRL Hostplus Cup, falling short 30-22.
Despite the end result though, the Hunters impressed going toe-to-toe with one of the competition heavyweights.
The Bears played with an attacking mindset right from the get go, kicking short off the tee to regather and immediately apply some early pressure to the Hunters line.
The Hunters defended the opening sets strongly but as fatigue set in Burleigh quickly took their advantage.
After 15 minutes play time, the Bears led the Hunters 12-0.
Despite being on the wrong end of the possession and field position stats, the Hunters threatened with their limited opportunities.
They made half breaks in consecutive exit sets only for some desperate scramble defence from the Bears to force an error on three occasions, stifling PNG’s momentum.
It looked like the Bears would extend their lead when a late offload was knocked forwards by a Hunters defender, but the home side muscled up on their own line to turn the visitors away.
A huge shot from Rodrick Tai –who flew in from his center position to shut a Bears backline movement down –saved the day for the Hunters on this occasion.
Having absorbed a mountain of pressure inside the opening 20 minutes, the Hunters impressed to keep the Bears to just 12 points and they finally got reward for effort in the 26th minute.
Some astute rotations from Head Coach Stanley Tepend saw Casey Dickson and Sanny Wabo enter the fray and immediately make an impact on the game.
With all the momentum and possession heading into the break, the visitors cracked under the pressure in the seconds before halftime to gift the Hunters a shot at goal after the siren.
Morea nailed his assignment to level things up at 12-all after 40 minutes played.
With 17 minutes left to go in the second half, the bears led 22-12.
Down on the scoreboard and with time against them, the Hunters flexed their muscles and showed their class to claw themselves back into the contest.
The SP PNG Hunters showed incredible resilience and patience under pressure to withstand the Bears attack for extended periods in both halves.
They refused to make it easy for the visitors and brought the crowd to life in the dying stages with an inspired comeback.
Although the end result is disappointing, this performance highlights the Hunters considerable improvements this season.
While it’s easy to just look at the wins and losses column when gauging performance, Hunters fans must stay patient and trust the process.
There are genuine signs this season that the Hunters are trending in the right direction and this narrow loss to the Bears is the latest evidence.
With Junior Rop and Sherwin Tanabai due to return after the bye, the Hunters now look towards a final block of four games leading into the finals series.
The Tigers, Dolphins, Blackhawks and Devils await the PNG based club as they aim to finish their 2023 campaign on a high.
Burleigh Bears 30 def. SP PNG Hunters 22