wartovo-puara

Kumuls hooker dilemma

Sports

By PETER PUSAL
WITH the Kumuls squad set to be announced today, coach Michael Marum has been faced with the unenviable task of picking his best 24-man squad for the Rugby League World Cup.
One position that has caused some contention about who best fits into the Kumuls team plan is hooker.
PNG is blessed with an array of dummy-halves who could all wear the No.9 on their backs and not let the country down.
National Rugby League players James Segeyaro (Cronulla Sharks) and Kurt Baptiste (Canberra Raiders) seem to have the inside running while Wartovo Puara Jr (PNG Hunters), Paul Aiton (Catalan Dragons) and Tommy Butterfield (Easts Tigers) have all filled in the role and would no doubt perform if given the opportunity.
Ray Thompson and Gahuna Silas, because of their utility value, are other options if injuries and unavailability take a toll.
On the local front, Stanley Olo’s form in the Digicel Cup this year has been impressive.
He was also one of the best for PNG Prime Minister’s 13 in their match against the Australian PM’s 13 last month.
The incumbent Kumul rake is SP Hunters’ maestro Puara, who was the starting hooker for the Kumuls’ last two tests — wins over Fiji (2016) and the Cook Islands (2017).
The 27-year-old has been one of the most consistent performers at Q-Cup level since 2014 — the Hunters’ debut season — and is one of the main reasons for his club’s success.  Coach Marum, has made it clear that NRL talent would be given priority because of the level they play at.
The justification of that policy was laid bare last Sunday when a Penrith Panthers NSW Cup side with over 200 games of NRL experience overwhelmed the Hunters 42-18 in their interstate championship fixture at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney.
In a 24-man squad there is realistically only room for two specialist hookers.
Australia’s Kangaroos squad named yesterday only features one specialist rake in captain Cameron Smith while Ben Hunt, a halfback, is the member of Mal Meninga’s squad most likely to shift to dummy-half if Smith gets injured.
Cooper Cronk, James Maloney and Michael Morgan are Australia’s halves options but any one of them could play hooker at a pinch.
The Kumuls cannot afford to have three or more specialist hookers in their World Cup squad just because they are all good players.
Marum’s decision will come down to who fits his game plan best and who can hit the ground running in terms of the style he wants to take into their three Pool C fixtures at the Oil Search National Football Stadium at the end of the month.
James Segeyaro’s quality is undeniable. He is a proven performer in the NRL and in the English Super League. Marum will have to choose between him and Baptiste.
Puara will probably get the nod as the second No.9 based simply on his combination with Hunters teammate and five-eighth Ase Boas and the other Hunters who may be picked today.
That means Baptiste and Butterfield miss out while Aiton, who can play in the backrow, could make the team.
As Marum said earlier in the week. It will simply come down to numbers.
There may be several deserving candidates for the job but the team can only take on X number players per position.
Marum is too smart an operator to fall into the mistake of picking a team of players and then trying to fit them into unfamiliar positions.
That kind of approach will only effect the balance and quality of the side and if there is one thing Kumul fans will not tolerate it is mediocrity for the sake of inclusion.
Possible squad: 1. David Mead, 2. Alex Johnston, 3. Kato Ottio, 4. Nene Macdonald, 5. Justin Olam, 6. Ase Boas, 7. Ray Thompson, 8. Luke Page, 9. James Segeyaro, 10. Wellington Albert, 11. Stanton Albert, 12. Rod Griffin, 13. Rhyse Martin, 14. Enoch Maki, 15. Moses Meninga, 16. Nixon Put, 17. Wartovo Puara Jr, 18. Watson Boas, 19. Paul Aiton, 20. Thompson Teteh, 21. Sebastian Pandia, 22. Esau Siune, 23. Stargroth Amean, 24. Willie Minoga.

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