PNG Hunters switched on the highlight reel as they returned to winning form with a stirring 34-22 victory over Northern Pride in Atherton, North Queensland on Saturday.
Solo Wane scored three tries, including one before halftime that will take some beating as the best try in this weekend’s Intrust Super Cup Country Week round of matches.
But his 61st minute try was vital – a scorching run down the right-hand touchline that enabled the Pride to break a 16-all deadlock.
Charlie Simon crossed from a kick nine minutes later to spark scenes reminiscent of rugby league in PNG. The loud Hunters fans in the crowd near the dead-ball line celebrated with the team, waving flags and lapping up a treasured victory.
Junior Rau finished the match in style when he sprinted down the left-hand touchline to score in the final minute.
This was a well-deserved win for a Hunters team that has battled challenges all season. They finished with only one bench player tonight as skipper Ila Alu (HIA), Samuel Yegip (ankle) and Dilbert Isaac (finger) received knocks.
But the win was completed in style against a Pride team playing before its wider home fans with a finals place on the line.
“I’m ecstatic for the boys because they have fought really hard for this,” coach Matt Church said.
“They have had this performance in them for a while and tonight they made some great decisions on the field and the results showed.
“We had great support from the community tonight. It felt a bit like home for some of the boys with the support.”
The Hunters had to claw their way back after the Pride scored in the 10th and 16th minutes to take an 8-0 lead. But errant goal-kicking hurt the Pride, which converted only one of its five tries. The Pride kept fighting but the Hunters answered each of their replies in the second half.
In contrast, the Hunters kicked five of their six conversions helping them to a 12-8 halftime lead.
Country Week matches are spread across Queensland and include official engagements for the teams including interaction with junior teams.
The Hunters visited Atherton’s junior games this morning to mix with the locals and Church said that helped them get into the festive mood of tonight’s match.
“This is a good experience for our players and it was a chance to get away from Runaway Bay where we’ve spent most of the year,” Church said.
“It was still a challenge to come here against a team like the Pride who have played some excellent football this year. But our guys embraced the opportunity and made the most of it.”
Brandon Nima opened the scoring for the Hunters with a try in the 25th minute that helped to lay the foundation for a memorable night for the Hunters.
The Hunters host Mackay Cutters next weekend while the Pride travels to Brisbane to meet Wynnum-Manly.
PNG HUNTERS 34 (Solo Wane 3, Brandon Nima, Charlie Simon, Junior Rau tries, Ase Boas 4 goals, Simon goal) bt NORTHERN PRIDE 22 (Shawn Bowen, Grant Anderson, Matthew Musumeci, Bernard Lewis, Joshua Stuckey tries, Anderson goal) at Atherton Junior Rugby League grounds.