By ISAAC LIRI
CAN the SP PNG Hunters secure their first win of the season when they face the Sunshine Coast Falcons at home on Sunday?
That’s the question many fans have been asking this week leading up to the Round 3 Intrust Super Cup fixture at the Oil Search National Football Stadium.
The Hunters are staring down the barrel of their worst start to a season if they lose to Justin Olam’s Falcons over the weekend with the side’s 1-2 effort last year from their first three games the poorest start to a season thus far.
The other stat the Hunters are desperate to break is the fact that they have not scored a point so far this season — an embarrassing toll the home side are determined to erase come Sunday.
Despite the fan backlash (particularly on social media) over his side’s inability to put on points in their opening 160 minutes of the season — while conceding 34 points and putting them second last on the table — head coach Michael Marum has stayed upbeat in his outlook and has made some positional changes to his side after their 24-0 loss to the Northern Pride last Sunday the most notable one naming the unheralded Justin Yoka, pictured, to debut in the halves.
At 20, Yoka faces the biggest of his fledgling career after being picked from relative obscurity to be a Hunter in 2019.
Last week’s five-eighth Charlie Simon has moved to hooker while halfback William Mone retains his spot in the halves.
Joe Joshua, who played fullback in the opening two games, swaps with the experienced Bland Abavu, who moves to the custodial role from the centres.
Wawa Paul replaces rookie winger Gairo Kapana and the hard-nosed forward Stanton Albert makes the run on side at lock pushing the impressive Junior Rop to the second-row alongside workaholic McKenzie Yei.
The Falcons on the other hand are a side in form having won two (Wynnum Manly 26-24, Redcliffe 30-6) on the road to open their 2019 campaign.
The Falcons are another battle-hardened and talented side which the Hunters will not find easy.
“I know there’s been a lot of talk about us after our last two performances but we want to make sure that we go out there this weekend and play well,” Marum said.
“The Falcons will come up here to beat us and they had good wins in their two games against Wynnum and Redcliffe and they have some Melbourne Storm fringe players.
“But we know what went wrong in the last two games. We’ve moved Charlie Simon to hooker where he played a lot of games in that position last year.
“I know it was disappointing last round but we have to have remember that these boys are fitting into big shoes and the last thing we want to do is add to that responsibility by continuing the negative comments and bashing.
“Of course we’re concerned about our problems and we’re trying to address those issues.”
The Hunters-Falcons match kicks off at 3pm with the curtain raiser to be a trial between the Hela Wigmen and Port Moresby Vipers.
Any late changes to the line-up named on Tuesday will be made during captain’s run tomorrow.
SP Hunters: 1. Bland Abavu 2. Junior Rau 3. Joe Joshua 4. Adex Wera (c) 5. Wawa Paul 6. Justin Yoka 7. William Mone 8. Moses Meninga (vc) 9. Charlie Simon 10. Enoch Maki 11. McKenzie Yei 12. Junior Rop 13. Stanton Albert; Reserves: 14. Nick Hasu, 15. Butler Morris, 16. Dilbert Isaac, 17. Daniel Tapol, 18. Brendon Nima, 19. Joe Frank, 20. Kevin Appo (three to be omitted).
Rivalry Round 3 Fixtures: Sat, March 23 – Ipswich Jets v Easts Tigers, Mackay Cutters v Central Queensland Capras, Northern Pride v Townsville Blackhawks; Sun, March 24 – Wynnum Manly Seagulls v Redcliffe Dolphins, Souths Logan Magpies v Norths Devils, PNG Hunters v Sunshine Coast Falcons, Burleigh Bears v Tweed Heads Seagulls.
By ISAAC LIRI