By ISAAC LIRI
LEADING the competition with three rounds left, there is no doubt the PNG Hunters will play in the Q-Cup finals this year.
However, the question of earning a maiden minor premiership title and cementing a top three finish depends on the outcome of the last three matches of the regular season.
Today Michael Marum’s men leave for Townsville to play the sixth-placed Blackhawks who are desperate to cement their top six spot and a place in the finals.
“We expect the Blackhawks to be at their best in front of their home fans because they’re fighting to maintain their sixth spot and they will be determined to get the two points against us before they go on a bye next weekend,” Marum said.
Hunters, currently sitting on top of the ladder with 35 points from 15 wins, one draw and four losses just need two wins from their final three games to secure the minor premiership.
“We set our goal to win two of our three games and secure the minor premiership but it won’t be easy because the Blackhawks will be tough.
“We have a home game against Wynnum Manly next weekend and then the Tweed head Seagulls away in the last round so all we have to do is make sure we win two of these three games,” Marum said.
Winning all three will be a bonus that will see them finishing the season with 41 points, which will go down as their best season so far since their debut in 2014.
But the Hunters cannot afford any more slip ups with the Redcliffe Dolphins (32 points) only three points behind.
If the Hunters lose their final three matches, they will lose their hosting privileges for the finals — as well as the minor premiership. The last time the sides met coach Kristian Woolf’s men were hammered 42-4 at the National Football Stadium in round 12.
The Blackhawks do not just have the finals on their mind but some vengeance as well
They also have the added motivation of getting the win for half Michael Parker-Walsh and captain Anthony Mitchell who are both retiring at the end of the season.
Marum also singled out Blackhawks star Carlin Anderson and point-scoring machine. The fullback has amassed 210 points — mostly off his boot — so far in 2017 and looks set to finish the regular season as the competition’s top point-scorer.
Blackhawks five-eighth Kyle Laybutt is eligible to play for the PNG Kumuls in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup through his parents, who were born in PNG
The 21-year old made his NRL first grade debut for the North Queensland Cowboys in June and will be looking to impress Michael Marum who is also the national coach.
Brandy Peter (allergy) was ruled out with Enoch Maki coming in to fill in at prop and Paul Wawa coming onto the bench.
Hunters: 1.Stargroth Amean, 2. Bland Abavu, 3. Israel Eliab, 4. Willie Minoga, 5. Butler Morris, 6. Ase Boas (C), 7. Watson Boas, 8. Wellington Albert, 9. Wartovo Puara Jr, 14 Enoch Maki, 11. David Loko, 12. Nixon Put, 13. Stanton Albert; Reserves: 20. Paul Wawa, 15. Moses Meninga, 16. Rhadley Brawa, 17. Karo Kauna Jr, 18. Muka Peter Kulu.
Rd 23 fixtures: Sat, Aug 12 – Bears v Cutters, Blackhawks v Hunters, Falcons v Devils, Dolphins v TH Seagulls; Sun, Aug 13 – Magpies v Tigers. Bye: WM Seagulls, Pride, Jets, Capras.
By ISAAC LIRI