Hunter edge out Dolphins in late comeback

The SP PNG Hunters produced a miracle comeback in Round 20 of the QRL Hostplus Cup, defeating Redcliffe Dolphins 26-22, with a match-winning try as the siren sounded across the Santos National Football Stadium.

The Port Moresby crowd were treated to an entertaining and see-sawing contest on Saturday, 5th August as the Hunters and Dolphins traded blows from the kick-off. 

It was the Hunters who started fastest, with their key players having positive involvements in the opening exchanges. Jamie Mavoko’s boot found the corners early on and slowly won the battle for his team. In good ball handling, Judah Rimbu craft from behind the ruck where he linked smartly with Junior Rop to compress the defence around the ball. 

Having laid the platform around the ruck, Rimbu’s crisp service set things up for Mavoko and Morea Morea to fire their first shot in attack. 

Mavoko held up the ball expertly to engage the defence before throwing to Morea. Quick hands from Hunters strike centre Rodrick Tai beat the jamming defence, sending Solo Wane for the opening try. 

They generated plenty of second-phase play in yardage through offloads from Rop and five-eighth Joshua Lau, allowing Morea to get involved as the Hunters worked upfield. The talismanic fullback was everywhere in the opening quarter and nearly stripped the Dolphins for numbers again in yardage sets. 

The Dolphins earned attacking opportunities and the Hunters were asked to muscle up in defence. 

Repelling the Dolphins attack in consecutive sets as the visitors camped on the Hunters try line.

Redcliffe halfback Cameron Cullen produced three forced drop-outs in this game, as he tried to build pressure in attack, but the Hunters defence held firm to turn Redcliffe away and force errors. 

Cullen’s kicking game kept the Dolphins in the contest. On more than one occasion, a good fifth tackle kick from Cullen saved what was otherwise a poor yardage set from Redcliffe. 

The speed and footwork of Cullen split the Hunters defensive line to secure Redcliffe’s first points in the 28th minute. 

Some enterprising play saw the Hunters fire two shots in the dying stages of the first half. Mavoko almost powered over the line in good-ball before Lau created an overlap down the short side near halfway. 

A late tackle from Redcliffe in that passage saw Mavoko kick a penalty goal after the halftime siren, giving the Hunters an 8-4 lead to break.

The Hunters started the second half on the attack, creating plenty of chances and eventually the pressure told when Wane crossed for his second. 

Tai and Wane had contributed the Hunters first two tries but it was their next-gen talent who combined for PNG’s third of the afternoon. 

With a 14-point lead and time on their side, the Hunters were doing everything right but couldn’t repel a desperate Dolphins attack. 

The pressure eventually told when Harrison Graham dived over beside the ruck and then Jack Bostock leaped above Morea to score Redcliffe’s third for the afternoon. 

It was no surprise that the Dolphins NRL contracted players stood tallest with the game in the balance. Using their experience, Redcliffe played to their strengths to bring the scores back to 18-16 with 15 minutes left to play. 

Redcliffe had all the momentum and the weight of possession in the second half but couldn’t contain the class of Hunters fullback Morea Morea. He beat no less than six Dolphins defenders on the kick return to put his team right back on the attack.

Three tackles later and Lau turned that half chance into points with a cutting run and powerful fend on the left edge. A difficult conversion attempt just missed the uprights to leave the Hunters with a six-point lead in the final 10 minutes. 

The Dolphins crossed over for a try for Levi Wilson just minutes later. Cullen missed that conversion but was gifted a free two-points in the 78th minute in front of the posts. 

It felt like a 22-22 draw would decide this back-and-forth contest, but no one remembered to tell Hunters backrower Benji Kot. 

Attacking from near the halfway line, a clever offload from Lau found Kot between defenders and the backrower exploded to life in the backfield. 

Kot displayed his trademark right-hand fend to push Bostock away to dive over for the match winner.   

The SP PNG Hunters will play Townsville Blackhawks on Saturday, 12th August in Port Moresby.

Loop Sports