The National, Tuesday August 4th, 2015
EAST New Britain has been home to the Papua New Guinea SP Hunters since its debut season last year.
Last Sunday, the Hunters played what was their last match at Kalabond Oval in Kokopo.
The Round 21 clash against worthy adversaries, the Easts Tigers, entertained and thrilled an appreciative crowd numbering close to 5000 who packed the venue for a last glimpse of Michael Marum’s men in action.
The home side won 24-22 in what was a closely-fought affair between two teams who will definitely figure in the Queensland Cup finals next month.
All up the Hunters have played 21 times at the venue since Round 2 last year and have made the “Graveyard” their own turf.
So far in 2015, the South Pacific Brewery-sponsored side is 9-0 (easily their most impressive streak in their short history).
They have beaten three of the best sides in the competition at Kalabond: Ipswich Jets (Rd 13, 40-28), Townsville Blackhawks (Rd 20, 28-26) and the Tigers over the weekend.
But Kokopo is not just a lucky charm for the Hunters or a hostile environment for visiting teams; it is by far the best town and venue to host Q-Cup matches in the country.
Visiting sides get to see a part of the country that is tranquil, laid-back and most importantly peaceful.
In those conditions one can only expect a high level of rugby league free from the negativity that we find in other parts of the country.
The people have been welcoming of the Hunters and have adopted the team as their own.
Families and businesses have invested their time and effort in supporting the side and there is nothing more pleasing then seeing mothers, fathers and children of all ages at games on the weekend barracking for their team and enjoying the show put on by the country’s best players.
Although alcohol is sold and consumed in at the ground it is done so in a controlled and respectful manner.
One would be hard-pressed to find another town or city in PNG that has this ingrained attitude – that you can drink and enjoy the game as well.
All too often alcohol is associated with the violence and abuse we see at sports fields one sees across the country but this seems to be the rare exception rather than the rule in Kokopo.
Before the construction of the various stadia in Port Moresby, Kokopo was the only Q-Cup certified and sanctioned venue.
The Queensland Rugby League had an understanding with the PNGRFL and the Hunters management that this was the only venue in the nation that was capable of hosting competition games on a weekly basis and indeed throughout the course of a season.
The fans who come to see the games are the best.
No other league playing province or town in PNG can claim to have the type of fans or management that Kalabond has on weekends.
It is a testament to the people, their attitudes toward sport, the support and commitment of the local business community and the patronage of the provincial government and in particular its head Governor Ereman ToBaining.
All these factors have come together to provide a setting conducive for success.
And the Hunters are having their best season yet having won 15 matches out of 19 with three losses (all coming in the opening six rounds) and a draw also on the road.
The Hunters have already played one game in Port Moresby this year.
It was a test event leading up to the Pacific games and the venue was the Sir John Guise Stadium.
It was Round 14 and the opposition were the Souths Logan Magpies, whom they beat 34-12 in front of 15,000 fans.
The atmosphere was great, a large number of fans, a decent enough field and a great seating and watching facility.
The big video screen in the eastern end was a touch of the big time.
While the city folk were grateful for their chance to see the Hunters and will no doubt clamour for more matches, one could not help but think that the players were a little over-awed by the occasion but more importantly felt the pressure of expectations.
And that is the big difference between the Moresby crowd and the Kokopo crowd.
The Hunters’ home will always be Kokopo.