The National, Monday July 8th, 2013
By JOHN PANGKATANA
IT was not pretty but the Monier PNG Pukpuks were able to keep the Solomon Islands Hunters at bay to open their FORU Cup campaign on a positive note winning 29-22 at the Lloyd Robson Oval on Saturday.
In the earlier clash, the Cook Islands cemented their favourites tag with an overpowering 38-5 victory over Tahiti.
For the Pukpuks they certainly have some work to do to re-establish themselves as they allowed the heavier Solomon Islanders to dominate the opening 20 minutes.
Despite the latter pushing the Pukpuks defensively their inside backs probably shot themselves by kicking the ball instead of running it when the home side were on the back foot.
With the Pukpuks forwards struggling, it came down to sevens internationals Hubert Tseraha, Tisa Kautu and Henry Liliket to open up the game in general play to set up and score those important tries.
Tseraha given room from a clearing kick dissected the Hunters’ line with a 40-metre run before off-loading to Kautu to score the egg-breaker.
The other try stemmed from a strong-run from centre Morea Pease to bring play within metres of the tryline, skipper Aaron Miai then punched the Hunters defence off the ensuring ruck to take them to a 10-0 lead at halftime.
Solomon Islands skipper Corey Chapman at No.8 put his body on the line in an inspirational performance, but their lack of co-ordination with their backs and poor options certainly gave room for the PNG to retaliate.
The replacements that came on in Jimmy Maebata, Reagan Pitabelama, Trevor Puia and Billy Tuate’e played with more hunger and certainly questioned why they did not start.
The Pukpuks finally woke up in the secondhalf, with rampaging Engan prop Ryan Sambath, No.8 Gabriel Biyama and man-of-the-match Butler Morris asserting themselves with a bit more passion.
This led to Kautu, Liliket and replacement winger Albert Levi Jr scoring tries.
The Hunters did make headway with lock Fredson Puketehua and Maebata bagging tries, but time ran out on them.
Cook Islands halves in nippy Auckland-based halfback Andrew Putairi and Brisbane-based flyhalf Greg Mullany were in superb touch running off plays to keep their bulky pack continuously bending the determined Tahiti defence.
Mullany, a removalist by profession, featured prominently and is likely to play that key role over the next two games tomorrow against the Solomon Islanders and PNG on Saturday.
Tahiti showed they can be physical and have a strong forward game that was typified in lock Noel Teihoarii scoring their only try of the match.
With the winner to be decided on first past the post, the Cook Islanders have given themselves a positive start to the one-week Oceania regional qualifier and a nose in front to head the points table.
Table: Cook Islanders 5, PNG 4, Solomon Islands 1, Tahiti 0.