Coach counting on veteran


HEAD coach Matthew Church will count on most-capped SP Hunter Wartovo Puara Jr to help steer the side against hosts Townsville Blackhawks at Jack Manski Oval tonight (7pm kick-off).
The South Pacific Brewery-sponsored Hunters are coming off a loss, but will take plenty of confidence from their round-seven performance which saw them push reigning premiers Norths Devils right all game.
Despite having almost half as much time in possession as the Devils and losing halfback Jamie Mavoko to a head injury assessment just seven minutes into the game, the Hunters still managed to miss less tackles, run more metres and all, but match Norths in average metres per set.
The Blackhawks come into the match chasing their fifth win on the trot in Queensland’s Hostplus Cup.
Veteran halfback Robert Lui has been a key contributor since returning in round five, notching three try assists in two games so far and providing the Blackhawks with more direction in attack.
Having enjoyed a bye last weekend, the Blackhawks will be eager to pick up from where they left off.
Puara made his return last week against the Devils for immediate effect.
With such a young and inexperienced squad this year, the Hunters have been looking for a leader in the spine, and he provided just that from dummy-half in round one.
Puara’s experience helped the Hunters get the most out of their strike players out wide in attack.
He had a key involvements in setting up tries for Solo Wane and Brandon Nima, and it’s no surprise that veteran Terry Wapi had his best game of the season with Puara back in the squad.
Wapi ran for 111m to score one try, set up another and bust six tackles in an exciting and tireless performance on the left wing, and will be looking to add to his tally again in round eight.
After scoring 24 points last week against the Devils, Church said he was looking for further improvement in attack this week.
“We are getting better at playing a little more direct,” he said.
“Our guys are fast and mobile, so playing more direct allows them to use their footwork at the line to get in between defenders.
“We’re better equipped to play through teams rather than around them, so we’re continuing to work on that each week.”
Two of the Hunters’ best players in round seven were back-rowers Sherwin Tanabi and Keven Appo.
In just his second game, former Lae Tiger Tanabi played the 80 minutes and ran for almost 150m while Appo, on the other edge, made 30 tackles without a miss.
Church was full of praises for both players.
“Sherwin was outstanding,” he said.
“I probably didn’t realise just how effective he was in that game until I watched it back.
“He had a great pre-season, and I held him back just to get the feel of the game in Australia before exposing him to the Hostplus Cup.
“He’s handled the next level well and should continue to get better with experience. As for Keven, he is a captain who always leads with his actions.
“I asked more of him in the lea- up to last week’s game and he responded well.
“Defensively, he really works hard on our left edge and communicates well, which is so crucial to defending well as a unit.”
Fixtures: Fri, May 13 – Blackhawks v Hunters; Sat, May 14 – Tweed Heads v Pride, Wynnum Manly v Jets, Devils v Capras, Dolphins v Magpies, Bears v Cutters; Sun, May 15 – Falcons v Tigers.

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