With a strong wind at their backs to begin the game, the Pride wasted no time going on the attack thanks to an early penalty conceded by the Hunters in the kick-off set.
Suddenly camped on their own goal line, the Hunters looked like they’d defended the set until Pride fullback Julian Christian took possession on the last, feigned a kick to the left and turned back in towards the ruck to link with Matthew Egan in support.
The Hunters’ cover defence couldn’t close the space in time as the Pride halfback opened the scoring with a clever four pointer.
The Hunters would respond in kind, targeting the ruck area in yardage to collapse the middle and advance quickly upfield into position for a left-side shift on the last. Wartovo Puara Jr and Mark Tony did well to hold up the defence before passing to get Brandon Nima into space, only for the Hunters’ centre to be held up over the line with a superb defensive effort from the home side.
Some bruising defence from the Hunters’ Junior Rop and Pride’s Nick Lui-Toso tried to swing the momentum, but both teams absorbed the pressure well as the game looked like settling in the grind. That was until Christian injected himself on the last again, this time scooting from dummy-half down a short side and grubbering back inside for Will Partridge to score in the 13th minute.
After watching his fullback produce two big plays for Pride’s first two tries, prop Lui-Toso took it upon himself to be next to score for the home side. Taking possession 20 metres out,
Lui-Toso put on a big left foot step to straighten on his run before powering through the defence to score beside the posts.
Next it was Gideon Gela-Mosby’s turn, coming off the back fence to take advantage of a fatiguing Hunters’ defence with a solo try in the 37nd minute, giving his side a 20-0 lead at half time.
The Hunters’ inability to get through their sets – and a strong head wind effecting their kicking game – saw them play most of the first 40 minutes inside their own half. A notable change in attitude as they returned for the second stanza however saw the PNG side dominate possession and field position.
After completing consecutive sets to begin the second half, the Hunters quickly found themselves on Pride’s try line.
Some power running and a few late offloads had the home side scrambling but again they somehow managed to hold the ball up when Emmanuel Waine crashed over the line only to be denied.
That passage summed up the second half – the Hunters were dominant in yardage and looked likely every time they held the ball, but were repeatedly denied by a desperate Pride defence.
Late tries to Will Partridge and Ewan Moore arguably came against the run of play and are a testament to Pride’s resilience playing at home on Sunday.
Partridge finished off a smooth left edge movement in the 66th minute before Moore scored beside the posts, courtesy of some hot-potato footy as Pride offloaded their way to the line.
A try in the 76th minute to Gilimo Paul ensured the Hunters would finish the game on a high.
Junior Rop compressed the defence with a strong charge before getting the ball away to Wesser Tenza behind the ruck. Tenza showed good vision to shift it quickly to Wartovo Puara, who did a fine job cameoing at halfback to put Paul over on the right edge.
Another highlight moment for the PNG side was the defensive effort of Emmanuel Waine midway through the second half, chasing down a runaway Will Partridge and singlehandedly dragging him to the ground and forcing the turnover.
Head Coach Matthew Church was understandably disappointed with the result.
“We were beaten to the punch today,” Church said.
“We were out-enthused through the middle – our communication was poor around the ruck
for a few tries there and we just couldn’t turn it around.”
“That was disappointing for us after showing real improvements in the last few weeks.”
Northern Pride 30 def. SP PNG Hunters 6