SP PNG Hunters have made the first positive step as they walk a 2021 injury tightrope by naming an unchanged squad for Saturday’s Intrust Super Cup clash with Ipswich Jets.
The same 17 players who almost stunned Wynnum Manly last Saturday have been named by coach Matt Church as part of an extended 21-man squad for the second-round clash at Bycroft Oval at 3pm.
Church has only 24 players in the Hunters’ camp on the Gold Coast during the testing 2021 campaign, which will mirror the Warriors’ NRL effort of 2020 by playing an entire season away from home.
The Hunters’ spirited comeback from 16-0 down to lose 18-20 against the highly-rated Seagulls– despite less than two weeks’ preparation after having to endure a month’s quarantine – was a standout story of the first round.
There were six ISC debutants in the side and all have been retained as the Hunters take on the unpredictable Jets, who fell to the Townsville Blackhawks last Saturday.
Hunters prop Enock Maki was a late withdrawal from the opening round side because of knee swelling after a midweek training session last week and remains unavailable for selection this weekend.
He is awaiting results of scans but, with injury the biggest threat to the Hunters’ challenge with such a limited pool of players, Church says he’d rather sway on the side of caution and has not included the 31-year-old international prop, who has been an upfront stalwart of the Hunters since 2015.
“The side really performed well and did enough to all retain their spots,” said Church.
“With only 24 players and a 19-round season to get through, we’d rather err on the side of
caution with Enock at this stage. Hopefully the scans give a positive result.
“The boys should be pretty happy with their effort in round one. To be honest, I didn’t know
what to expect considering the unusual situation leading up to the match.
“We made a few little errors that could have made it a different result but they are not big things that we have to worry about.
“We had six players on debut and every one of them went well.
“Jokadi Bire and Benji Kot (who came into the second row to replace Maki with Epel Kapinias moving up front) were really good on debut. Jokadi picked up a try and Benji broke the line a few times with good feet, so it was really encouraging.”
Church said his players were grateful for the positive support from home since their last match.
“We’ve been really encouraged by the messages we’ve received,” he said.
“The Wynnum players were fantastic after the game as they boys stood around in the huddle. Their captain (Matiu Love-Henry) spoke on behalf of his team and thanked our players for being here this season, understanding the sacrifices they were making. It was a very nice gesture and was much appreciated by our players.”
SP PNG Hunters to play Ipswich Jets, Bycroft Oval, Saturday 27 March at 3pm:
1. Terry Wapi. 2. Junior Rau. 3. Brendan Nima. 4. Jokadi Bire. 5. Brendon Gotuno. 6. Watson Boas. 7. Charlie Simon. 8. Epel Kapinias. 9. Wartovo Puara Jnr. 10. Samuel Yegip. 11. Benji Kot. 12. Keven Appo. 13. Ila Alu (c). Interchange: 14. Edwin Pape. 15. Sylvester Namo. 16. Emmanuel Waine. 17. Judah Rimbu. 18. Mark Piti. 19. Jeffery Robert. 20. Solo Wane. 21. Norman Brown.