SP PNG Hunters coach Matt Church says the high standard of the Digicel Cup is already proving a benefit for his team as they prepare for their Intrust Super Cup clash with the Ipswich Jets tomorrow.
The Hunters surprised the competition last weekend with they almost toppled Wynnum Manly Seagulls in a stirring fightback in the opening round clash at Bycroft Oval at Runaway Bay.
The Hunters return to Bycroft Oval at 3pm tomorrow to take on a Jets team that fell to Townsville Blackhawks last weekend.
The Hunters had been expected by some commentators to struggle early after a challenging preparation including 31 days in quarantine, preventing them from playing any trial matches.
But Church says the impressive form of the likes of debutant prop Samuel Yegip last weekend proved that the Digicel Cup had helped the Hunters prepare for this season.
Yegip’s debut performance carried on from his man-of-the-match effort in the Digicel Cup grand final last season when he ploughed through the Lae Snax Tigers’ defence in the 77th minute to win the premiership for the Hela Wigmen.
With the game on the line, Yegip tucked the ball under his left arm and barged 15 metres straight ahead, past four tacklers and into Digicel Cup history with a stunning try.
“One of the upsides of not playing Intrust Super Cup last year (because of COVID) was that our squad played in the Digicel Cup and it proved to be a really good competition,” Church said.
“Samuel Yegip is a great example of that. He was very good for us against Wynnum Manly and he was able to step up to this level because of his hard work for the Hela Wigmen.
“He runs straight and hard for us and he’s one of the promising players making their way through the system in PNG to go on to higher levels. The Hunters program is a key step on that path.”
Church is looking forward to a return to warmer weather this weekend with temperatures expected to reach 30 degrees following the end to a few cool and miserable days of rain.
The Hunters have a strong record against the Jets, winning eight of their 12 matches over the years. However, the Jets have won the last two clashes between the teams with their well-known attacking style of football.
“We know that they’re predictably unpredictable so we don’t expect that to change this weekend,” Church said.
“They will chance their arm in attack and we have to work together in defence to defuse that.
“But we continue to spend most of our planning on our own tactics. We’re still coming off that time in quarantine so we’re going to keep getting better as the season continues.
“The players feel good and they’re ready to go for this second game.”
SP PNG HUNTERS: Terry Wapi, Rau Kobale, Brandon Nima, Jokadi Bire, Brendon Gutuno, Watson Boas, Charlie Simon, Epel Kapinias, Wartova Puara Jnr, Samuel Yegip, Ben Kelly, Keven Appo, Ila Alu (capt). Interchange: Edwin Ipape, Sylvester Namo, Mark Piti, Judah Rimbu. Coach: Matt Church.
IPSWICH JETS: Jayden Connors, Peter Gubb, Ben White, Jordan Carriera, Richard Pandia, Josh Cleeland, Julian Christian, Tyson Lofipo, Kierran Moseley, Nat Neale (capt), Tyler Coburn, Zac Hetherington, Blake Lenehan. Interchange: Ono So’oialo, Hugh Sedger, Todd White, Timote Paseka. Coach: Keiron Lander.
Match officials: Jacob Whitehouse, Ben Watts, Matt Colclough. Kick-off at 3pm, Saturday 27 March 2021, Bycroft Oval.