PAPUA New Guinea Hunters coach Michael Marum says his side will fight for a top-three finish as the Intrust Super Cup season closes.
Currently on fourth spot with 32 points, the Hunters are guaranteed a home final with two games left in the regular season, including Sunday’s round 24 fixture against the Northern Pride at Barlow Park, Cairns.
But Marum said his side weren’t about to take their foot off the pedal despite losing four backs through injury and suspension in the lead-up to the clash against the 10th-placed Pride.
The 42-year-old said he expected the games to be no less intense than last week’s 24-20 loss to Townsville.
“We have to win this match against the Pride to give us a chance of securing the number three or two spot on the ladder,” Marum said of the Joe O’Callaghan-coached side, who are four points out of the top-six on 22 points.
“We’re expecting another tough match because these guys (Pride) have a slight chance of making the finals and they’re going to be desperate as well.”
The Pride are coming off a 30-4 win over the Tweed Heads Seagulls and have home ground advantage ensuring a close contest as Marum’s side has only won four from 11 on the road so far in 2016.
The last time the Hunters won in Australia was in round 17 when they beat Tweed Heads 40-10. With competition leaders the Redcliffe Dolphins out of reach on 36 points, the Hunters can still leapfrog the Blackhawks (33 pts) and even the Burleigh Bears (35) if they win on Sunday and close out the season with another victory against the Sunshine Coast in Port Moresby the following round provided the Bears and the Blackhawks stumble.
The revamped Hunters backline sees the return of captain and goal-kicking ace Noel Zeming, pictured, to centre alongside forward Edward Goma, who reverts to his preferred position in place of the suspended centre Justin Olam (shoulder charge).
The Hunters lose their strike power on the right edge with Thompson Teteh’s season-ending groin injury last week but Zeming’s contribution as leader, capable defender and with the boot should offset that loss somewhat.
Marum said there would be no changes to the team he named earlier in the week with hooker Wartovo Puara Jr included in the squad as 18th man while co-captain Adam Korave, who returns from a knee, will come off the bench.
Stargroth Amean gets an opportunity to play fullback with Bland Abavu out for a week for a dangerous throw and Philemon Kimisive gets an opportunity to add to his three games for the SP-sponsored club. For the Pride, the players expected to have an impact are five-eighth Jordan Biondi-Odo, fullback Linc Port and forwards in prop Ben Spina and back-rower Vaipuna Tia-Kalifi. The match will be televised live on TV WAN at 3.35pm.
Hunters: 1. Stargroth Amean, 2. Butler Morris, 3. Noel Zeming (C), 4. Edward Goma, 5. Philemon Kimisive, 6. Ase Boas, 7. Watson Boas, 8. Enoch Maki, 9. Warren Glare, 10. Esau Siune, 11. Timothy Lomai, 12. Ishmael Balkawa, 13. Brandy Peter; Reserves: 14. Gahuna Sailas, 15. Adam Korave, 16. Benjamin Hetra, 17. Nickson Borana, 18. Wartovo Puara Jr (one to be ommitted).