The National, Thursday February 4th, 2016
FACED with a dearth of forwards on his bench for Saturday’s pre-season fixture against the Penrith Panthers, SP Hunters coach Michael Marum will be forced to play some of his back line contingent in the middle of the ruck.
But that is something the 42-year-old is used to doing and has planned for given this will be the South Pacific Brewery-sponsored side’s only hit out before the March 6 Intrust Super Cup opener against the Souths Logan Magpies in Brisbane.
With Ishmael Balkawa named as the only regular metre gainer in Marum’s reserves, the 2015 ISC coach of the year said he would slot players in unfamiliar positions during the trial and he was heading into the 2016 with an open mind when it came to figuring out the best positions for each of his squad members.
“This game and the ones we have during the early part of the Q-Cup season will be about getting the best team on the field that can perform and get the result,” Marum said.
“We’ll obviously start players in their usual positions but we will be shifting them around to see where they are best suited.
“We’ve found that during the season when we try players in different roles they eventually settle down and things sort themselves out and they get their right positions.”
With regular forwards Brandy Peter (hand), Enoch Maki (knee) and Timothy Lomai (suspension) unavailable the cupboard seems bare.
One player that will be required to take on a forward-oriented role at some point is 20-year-old wrecking ball Philemon Kimisive, pictured.
“Philemon is a big, young guy with pace and power and while we see him as basically a centre/wing he’s big enough to play as a back-rower on the edges.”
The Eastern Highlander made Marum’s 2015 squad but was sent back to the Digicel Cup – with the Goroka Lahanis – to get more experience and capped off a solid if unspectacular season with selection in the Papua New Guinea Prime Minister’s XIII.
Despite being out-played by his Australian opposite David Nofoaluma in that PMs’ XIII fixture, the blue print on how to use Kimisive was laid down – used as a seventh forward on the field.
He has the attributes for a shift to the back-row, standing right on 190cm and weighing over 100kg, Kimisive could be the man Marum is looking for to play the kind of impact role Willie Minoga had or the menacing presence out wide of a Kato Ottio.
While it is expected Kimisive will eventually add to his skill set as a winger over the next few years, the weekend’s match could see him start on the edge but shift to the pack.
Marum said the utility value of his squad was a bonus especially with injuries to key personnel.
“We’ve got Justin Olam, who’s a good size, fast and strong, and the others like Tuvi Lepan and Simon Peter, who can fill that wide role.”
He said development player Peter, despite not being included in the initial 23 for the game was a “50-50 chance” of shrugging off a sternum injury and being a late inclusion.
The other players on the injured list are Anderson Benford (ankle) and Sailas Gahuna (hip flexor).
The National Football Stadium (formerly the Lloyd Robson Oval) is expected to be filled to its 15,000 capacity as Jamie Soward’s Panthers, which will include PNG’s own Wellington Albert, look to get a good work out from before the start of National Rugby League next month.