The SP PNG Hunters finished with nine men on the field in today’s 40-12 loss to Brisbane Tigers at Bycroft Oval in one of the Intrust Super Cup’s most eventful matches in years.
The Hunters controversially had three players sent to the sin-bin in the final nine minutes and second-rower Benji Kot sent off in the 57th minute after losing another to the bin for 10 minutes earlier in the half.
The first to be banished was centre Brandon Nima, along with the Tigers’ Sam Lavea, in the 43rd minute. Only four minutes after the pair returned to the field Kelly was dismissed for lifting in a three-man tackle with the Tigers leading 24-12.
Already down to 12 men, forward Samuel Yegip was binned for a tackle in the 73rd minute. Two minutes later, Sylvester Namo was given an early shower after a brief dust-up with an opponent and when halfback Charlie Simon approached the referee to question the decision, he was also given an early release, accusing him of dissent.
On top of those dramatic moments, the PNG side that is in residence on the Gold Coast lost two players to injury – centre Jokadi Bire, who was in fine form before coming off with a rib injury in the 72nd minute, and interchange forward Emanuel Waine (calf) after 51 minutes.
The Hunters, confronted by mostly minor injuries to several players, had surprised their opponents by fielding former Tigers veteran hooker Tom Butterfield, who had played the past three seasons with Wests Panthers in the Brisbane Rugby League competition. The 32- year-old played 19 minutes to give Wartovo Puara Jnr some respite in his club record 115th appearance.
And if that wasn’t enough action, watching in the grandstand were 47-game Hunters servant Stanton Albert and 22-year-old newcomer Gilmo Paul, who had this morning ended two weeks of quarantine in Brisbane after having been given exemption to leave PNG to join the injury-hit squad.
Yet coach Matt Church wasn’t blaming the remarkable events of the second half for his side’s defeat, admitting the Hunters’ poor kicking game and inability to apply any concentrated pressure was the main reason for their downfall after the scores were locked at 12-all at halftime.
“The game was starting to slip from our grasp before that [the player dismissals] – we couldn’t build pressure, didn’t kick well enough and get to the end of sets,” Church said.
“We should have scored more points in the first half and didn’t give ourselves a chance to mount pressure in the second half.”
Church said the Hunters rallied despite being down on numbers, cracking only in the last minute when the Tigers scored against nine men.
“I’m proud of the way our guys dug in when we were down to 12 then nine men. We defended for the last part of the match four men down as the Tigers tried to catch us short,” Church said.
The Hunters began well and led 6-0 after 10 minutes when winger Norman Brown finished off a well-constructed play to the right, ducked under a tackle and scored close to the posts.
The Tigers replied in the 16th minute in the set after a Darren Nicholls 40-20 kick, with centre Linc Port crossing on the left edge.
The Hunters regained the lead in the 27th minute through Bire with Simon’s conversion making it 12-6. The Tigers levelled with a try 10 seconds before halftime to halfback Nicholls after the Hunters had twice turned over possession in their own half.
The momentum had swung the Tigers’ way with tries scored by Aaron Pene and Jordan Grant three minutes apart in the 51st and 54th minutes to give them a 24-12 break. With Kot sent off soon after, the Hunters had little chance of salvaging the game and they were behind 36-12 before their numbers dramatically dwindled in the final minutes.
Church is delighted to welcome into his squad Kumuls international middle forward Albert and centre Paul who was impressive during the Hela Wigmen’s premiership season in the Digicel Cup last year.
“It will be really good to have them in and around the group,” Church said. “I’m looking forward to seeing Gilmo in the Hunters’ set-up for the first time and Stanton has been around at this level for a while and his experience and enthusiasm will be valuable for us as some of our guys are getting used to the game the pressures of Intrust Super Cup football.”
BRISBANE TIGERS 40 (J Grant 2, L Port, D Nicholls, A Pene, J Grant, I Lumelume tries; Grant 6 goals) def. PNG HUNTERS 12 (N Brown, J Bire tries; C Simon 2 goals) at Bycroft Oval, Runaway Bay