Hunters to battle Cutters in opener


THE SP Hunters will kick off their campaign to make the finals for the first time in five years when they face Mackay Cutters away at BB Print Stadium on March 19, following the release of the 2022 season draw.
The South Pacific Brewery-sponsored side last played finals rugby league in their maiden premiership-winning season in the Queensland Intrust Super Cup (now Hostplus Cup) 2017.
Since then, the Hunters had finished ninth (2018), 13th (2019) and 10th (2021) with the 2020 season cancelled over the Coronavirus pandemic.
But coach Matthew Church will see 2022 as an opportunity to turn things around with the experiences of last season’s unprecedented Queensland relocation expected to galvanise his men.
Additionally, he will have a host of exciting train-on squad rookies to choose from, and the local knowledge of assistant coaches Stanley Tepend — a proven winner at the domestic level — and Paul Aiton at his disposal.
The Hunters will see their first of two clashes with Mackay, who finished two spots below Church’s men in 12th this year, as an easier assignment compared with last season’s opener where they lost 18-20 to runners-up Wynnum Manly.
The Hunters then travel to Rockhampton to face 2021 wooden spooners Central Queensland Capras in round two before they return to Bycroft Oval on the Gold Coast for their first home game against Brisbane Tigers a week later.
Church’s men — on a bye in round six — will play 11 matches against sides that finished in the top-eight last season with the first one scheduled at home against the Australian’s former employers, Sunshine Coast Falcons, in round four.
The Hunters have been handed nine home games in the 20-round 2022 season of Australia’s second-tier rugby league competition.
Skipper Ila Alu and his charges face the Capras, Cutters, Tigers, Falcons, Townsville Blackhawks and Burleigh Bears twice in the regular season, in their quest to reach the finals.
Church will have the fixtures against champions Norths Devils (round seven, May 7) and PNG international David Mead’s Wynnum Manly (round 14, July 9) penciled in, as he looks to test his men against both grand finalists. Fixtures: Cutters v Hunters (March 19), Capras v Hunters (March 26), Hunters v Tigers (April 2), Hunters v Falcons (April 9), Bears v Hunters (April 25), Hunters v Devils (May 7), Blackhawks v Hunters (May 13), Hunters v Dolphins (May 21), Tweed Heads v Hunters (June 5), Hunters v Magpies (June 11), Pride v Hunters (June 18), Jets v Hunters (July 2), Wynnum Manly v Hunters (July 9), Hunters v Capras (July 16), Tigers v Hunters (July 23), Falcons v Hunters (Aug 7), Hunters v Blackhawks (Aug 13), Hunters v Bears (Aug 20), Hunters v Cutters (Aug 27).