SP PNG Hunters have been hit with the news that in-form winger Brendon Gutuno will be sidelined for eight weeks with a double arm fracture as they prepare for Saturday’s clash with Sunshine Coast Falcons.
Gutuno, who has been a regular in the Hunters side since 2018, suffered the injury in the third minute of last Saturday’s 26-14 win against the Cutters in Mackay. The 25-year-old had surgery on Monday to repair fractures in different bones in his forearm.
His misfortune has created the opportunity for Norman Brown to make his Intrust Super Cup debut on the wing when the Hunters meet the sixth-placed Falcons at Runaway Bay’s Bycroft Oval.
Brown, 23, played fullback for Hela Wigmen in their Digicel Cup grand final victory against Lae Tigers last October. It was his second grand final victory, proving his experience in pressure matches as he prepares for his Hunters debut.
In other injury news for the Hunters, utility back Joe Joshua has joined Kumuls prop Enock Maki in having minor knee surgery to remove some floating bone. Both players are likely to miss a further three weeks.
Coach Matt Church is delighted at the start to the season that has the Hunters in fourth position after three rounds, with the only loss a 20-18 thriller against the undefeated Wynnum Manly Seagulls in the opening match.
The Seagulls, who are one of the Brisbane Broncos’ feeder teams, defeated Tweed Seagulls 36-24 and Northern Pride 36-6 in their other games.
“If you said to me a month ago – after going through a 31-day quarantine period and having no trial matches while other teams had three – that we’d win two of our first three games, I’d take it any day of the week,” Church said.
“It was very pleasing to get the win last weekend in Mackay as it was the first time in the Hunters’ history that we’ve played on the day we’ve travelled. It was a bit of an adjustment but, like just about everything else, the players took it in their stride.
“They have been a surprise packet of the early rounds and even surprised me to a degree, considering the lack of preparation we had compared to other teams.
“And considering the challenges they’ve faced living away from home, it’s full credit to them.
“But we all know it is a long season and this Saturday will be a big test against a team that is consistently in the top half of the ladder and they will have some NRL experienced players. It will be a good test to see where we’re really at.”
The Falcons are one of two Melbourne Storm feeder clubs. They opened the season with a loss to Northern Pride before toppling Souths Logan Magpies and Ipswich Jets in their following games. Storm-contracted five-eighth Cooper Johns has been named for the Falcons.
The SP PNG Hunters to play Sunshine Coast Falcons at Bycroft Oval, Runway Bay, on Saturday, April 17, 2.10pm:
1. Terry Wapi. 2. Junior Rau. 3. Brendan Nima. 4. Jokadi Bire. 5. Norman Brown. 6. Watson Boas. 7. Charlie Simon. 8. Epel Kapinias. 9. Wartovo Puara Jnr. 10. Samuel Yegip. 11. Benji Kot. 12. Emmanuel Waine. 13. Ila Alu (c). Interchange: 14. Edwin Ipape. 15. Sylvester Namo. 16. Mark Piti. 17. Judah Rimbu.
Sunshine Coast Falcons:
1. Matthew Milson. 2. Paul Ulberg. 3. BJ Aufaga-Toomaga. 4.Jack Howarth. 5. Nat McGavin. 6. Cooper Johns. 7. Todd Murphy. 8. Daniel Dole. 9. Tyson Smoothy. 10. Patrice Siolo. 11. Trent Loiero. 12. Louis Geraghty. 13. Dane Hogan (c). Interchange: 14. Kurt Baptiste. 15. Campbell Duffy. 16. Tom Geraghty. 17. William Toloi.
Match officials: Matt Noyen, Sam Swift, Jarrod Cole.