The National, Monday April 20th, 2015
THE opening round of the Digicel Cup saw the Enga Mioks beat defending champions the Hela Wigmen 18-14 in an evenly-contested match at Aipus Oval in Wabag yesterday.
Despite fielding an under-strength side the Wigmen competed well for most of the match and led 10-12 for most of the second half before being run down by a fast-finishing Mioks side urged on by the crowd.
Wigmen coach Andrew Andiki’s fears that his depleted side would struggle in the intense atmosphere of Wabag were unfounded as his men gave a good account of themselves and were led well by former Kumul Larsen Marabe.
In Kokopo, where the competition’s official kick off took place, the Agmark Gurias were a class above their Gulf Isapea rivals, winning 22-18 at Kalabond Oval.
The game was all but in the bag, with the Steven Nightingale-coach side 18-0 halfway through, but the Crocodiles proved their quality in 2015 with a comeback that nearly got them over the line.
Winger Chris Jerry was a standout for the home side, while Isapea hooker Junior Arova sparked the fight-back with a double early in the second half.
The game was the curtainraiser to the Queensland Cup clash between the PNG Hunters and the Mackay Cutters and did not disappoint the fans, with both sides giving as good as they got.
But in the end it was the East New Britons’ better execution and skill level that got them home.
In Mendi, a Muruks team packed with unknowns — their only name player was halfback and captain Joshua Molsi — handled the Mt Hagen Eagles featuring star winger Gary Lo 28-16, in an entertaining clash at the Joe Keviame Oval in Tente.
Lo, who had been drafted back into the Hunters squad earlier in the week, travelled to Kokopo on Friday to be assessed by coach Michael Marum and his staff for possible re-inclusion in the team.
The 22-year-old returned to the Eagles on Saturday and he, along with former Kumul forward George Moni, led the Western Highlands side to the Southern Highlands capital.
The pair played well but were held in check by a determined Mendi side, on the back of a man-of-the-match performance by prop Jackson Undi.
In Minj, Jiwaka got its first taste of semi-professional football in 15 years, with an estimated 3500 fans packing Minj Rugby League Oval to watch the Waghi Tumbe take the Simbu Lions.
The Lions came out victors, beating a Jiwaka side led by former Australia and New South Wales forward Anthony Lafranchi, 22-14.
The 34-year-old endeared himself to the Jiwaka fans with a try and several strong surges, while Governor William Tongap was reportedly pleased with the overall effort from the Tumbe.
Lions franchise owner Gerard Philip was said to be happy with the start his side made and tries to Andrew Sipi, Sonny Daing, Samuel Kapil and Charlie Kaipel set up the win. In Goroka, the Lahanis’ lack of experience was laid bare by the visiting Lae Tigers, who beat the Eastern Highlanders 28-12 at the National Sports Institute in the provincial capital, Goroka.
With the Port Moresby Vipers set to play their first match next week, the Digicel Cup opener in the Pacific Games year pushed up several names for the national nines squad with Jerry, Arova and Lions’ Sonny Daing and Undi putting in strong performances.
Results: Mioks 18 Wigmen 14, Muruks 28 Eagles 16, Lahanis 12 Tigers 28, Tumbe 14 Lions 22, Gurias 22 Isapea 18.