By ISAAC LIRI
THE SP PNG Hunters regained some confidence despite losing yesterday’s Round 3 Intrust Super Cup clash with Sunshine Coast Falcons 28-26.
Centre Joe Joshua crossed for a hat-trick of tries at the National Football Stadium while debutant Tony Yoka brought the house down with a try in the 23rd minute.
Earlier winger Junior Rau, pictured, scored the Hunters’ first points of 2019 with a well-taken try in 17th minute.
Even though the Hunters lost, the performance was a step in the right direction as the attack was better with Yoka’s involvement.
Hunters coach Michael Marum was pleased with the effort and despite allowing soft tries the team had scored points after being kept scoreless in the first two games.
The loss saw the Hunters stay winless after three rounds — the worst start to a season in the club’s history.
“For us its’ not about points now but it’s how we play, game after game, we understand that it’s a long season and we have to put points on the board but we have a new team and we are still building,” Marum said.
“All we want is for the boys to perform well and hopefully we can back it up next week.”
Possession was in favour of the home side in the opening 10 minutes but some impressive defence from the visitors kept them at bay.
Falcons captain Dane Hogan was the first to score in the 13th minute after some lazy defence from the Hunters.
Halfback Nicholas Hynes converted for a 6-0 lead.
The home side replied in the 17th minute after a long ball by fullback Bland Abavu found Junior Rau out wide.
Hooker Charlie Simon missed the sideline conversion for the hosts to trail 6-4.
The Hunters took the lead when five-eighth Yoka crossed after backing up prop Moses Meninga close to the line.
Yoka showed good evasive ability to step through several Falcons defenders to slam the ball over the line for a wild reaction from the crowd.
Simon’s conversion made it 10-6.
Yoka then turned from hero to villain after fumbling the restart which saw a scrum 10m out from the Hunters line.
Hogan chased through a loose ball in-goal and grounded it for the visitors second four-pointer.
Referee Nick Pelgrave ruled that Falcons No.1 Sitiveni Moceidreke had the ball stripped by the Hunters defence.
Hynes slotted the extras for the Falcons to regain the lead (12-10).
Yoka made up for his earlier blunder by having a hand in the next try. The 20-year-old bobbed up on the left side and a cut-out pass saw bench forward Daniel Tapol who angled in before passing to centre Joshua who beat the cover to post the Hunters’ third try.
Simon managed to kick the conversion for a 16-12 lead. The Hunters left edge defence was found wanting before halftime when Jonathan Reuben set up winger Nathan Saumalu for a try which Hynes converted and the visitors took an 18-16 lead into the break.
The Hunters started the second half in the worst way allowing a try under the posts by Falcons lock Daniel Dole in the second minute of play.
The Falcons extended their lead when Saumalu grabed his second of the day off a Hynes break.
The home side tried hard to get back into the contest trailing 28-16 but handling errors and poor kicking took away any momentum they were building.
The Hunters saw a glimmer of hope when Joshua beat several Falcons defenders to post his second try to get the Hunters to within eight points (28-20) 65th minute.
The Falcons closed down the match but allowed a consolation four-pointer in the 80th minute to Joshua, who chased a Simon bomb which was fumbled by Saumalu.
Joshua won the race to the ball in-goal to ensure the hosts had the final say.
Coach Marum said the club was hoping to have Ase Boas, who returned on Saturday from the UK, back in the side for the season.
PNG Hunters 26 (Joe Joshua 3, Junior Rau, Justin Yoka tries; Charlie Simon 3 con) Sunshine Coast Falcons 28 (Dane Hogan 2, Nathan Saumalu 2, Daniel Dole tries; Nicholas Hynes 4 con) .
Round 3 Results: Sat, March 23 – Northern Pride 4 Townsville Blackhawks 20, Ipswich Jets 20 Easts Tigers 22, Mackay Cutters 42 CQ Capras 20; Sun, March 24 – Wynnum Manly Seagulls 18 Redcliffe Dolphins 10, Burleigh Bears 32 Tweed Heads Seagulls 4, Souths Logan Magpies 16 Norths Devils 42, PNG Hunters 26 Sunshine Coast Falcons 28.