The National, Monday February 8th, 2016
By PETER PUSAL
THE Papua New Guinea Hunters put up a determined performance against the visiting Penrith Panthers losing 20-12 in Saturday’s pre-season game at the National Football Stadium.
The match, which doubled as the official opening event for the Oil Search-funded 15,000 capacity stadium, was branded a big success by Sports Minister Justin Tkatchenko with a full house watching Noel Zeming lead the side in their first match of 2016.
Coach Michael Marum was generally happy with his side’s performance despite going down four tries to three.
“After the game we’ve got a better idea of the team and the combinations,” Marum said.
“It was a good experience for everyone. I was really impressed with the way we defended against an NRL quality side like Penrith. We’ve got a big bench and all those young players coming through got good game time so we’re happy with their performances.”
The home side had several stand outs in regulars Adam Korave, Wartovo Puara Jr, Henry Wan, Edward Goma and Stargroth Amean but it was the contributions of new men Sailas Gahuna, pictured, Justin Olam, John Ragi Jr and Tuvi Lepan that would have pleased coach Michael Marum a month before the Intrust Super Cup kicks off.
Captain Zeming was taken off before halftime with a sore left knee which he said was a precautionary move.
“I came off early because of an old injury (left knee) just to be on the safe side,” Zeming said.
“It was a good game for the boys and a chance for them to show their talent and I think they played well.”
Wing Adex Wera also sustained damage to his left knee late in the second half requiring him to be in a wheel chair post match but Marum said injury was not serious.
Despite a high error count and having to deal with a National Rugby League quality defence the South Pacific Brewery-sponsored side managed to cross for three tries – one in the first half to Wera and two in the second half to new recruits Philemon Kimisive and Gahuna.
Worryingly, stand-in goal kicker Ase Boas missed two conversions – a side line attempt (Wera’s try) and a relatively easy one 15 metres off centre (Kimisive’s try), both from the Boroko Market end.
Wing Bland Abavu, who took the conversion for Gahuna’s try, missed a sitter as well.
For the visitors, half-back Jamie Soward, directed play in a composed manner but also found time to revel with fans during the match.
He played one half which was a little more than he expected to play.
The 31-year-old, who will play in next week’s All Stars fixture for the Indigenous side, set up one try and kicked two conversions.
“Coach just gave me a rest. I got the All Stars next week so the plan was to play 20 (minutes) but I was having a good time out there so I got 40 out which was a good hit out,” Soward said.
The Panthers opened the scoring in the third minute of play through Leilani Latu for a 6-0 lead but the Hunters struck back after a Watson Boas long pass found Wera in space and the nippy back got past two defenders to plant the ball in the right corner.
Ase Boas hooked the conversion and the Panthers held their lead 6-4.
The Panthers repelled the Hunters attack for several sets on their line and turned the table on the home side with a well-worked move that saw Soward send a cut-out pass to Josh Hall, who jinked past Wera to score. Soward slotted the conversion and the visitors took a 12-4 lead to the break.
The Hunters best try of the night was created by reserve hooker Gahuna, who sliced through the line after taking a pass from Ase Boas and ran 25m before drawing Naden and giving the hulking Kimisive a clear run to the line.
Boas missed the easy conversion to the disappointment of the crowd and the Panthers to led by four, 12-4.
Penrith wing Malakai Watene-Zelezniak then bagged a double to get his side out to a 20-8 lead with less than five minutes to play. Kicker Nathan Cleary missed both conversions.
The Hunters had the last say with Gahuna capping off an impressive debut with a try after an Ase Boas bomb was spilled by the Panthers and centre Thompson Teteh picked up the scraps before feeding Gahuna, who darted over from close range.
The atmosphere in the stadium remained upbeat after the match with Panthers and Hunters players making laps of honour to meet with fans and take pictures.
Panthers director Phil Gould was present as was Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, who kicked off the match and after making a speech on centre ground.