Race on for the top

The National, Wednesday July 6th, 2016

PAPUA New Guinea Hunters chief executive officer Bob Cutmore says his side are finals bound but the only question is where they finish in the top six.
Cutmore said the South Pacific Brewery-sponsored side, in third spot on 24 points, would be hoping to complete an unblemished home record (7-0) in 2016 with four of the last seven matches at the National Football Stadium but the real challenge is taking on and beating four of the best sides in the Intrust Super Cup.
“We’ve got a tough last seven games even though four are at home. “We’re playing all the top sides, so it’s by no means an easy thing for us but as far as the top six is concerned the Hunters will be in the finals or we should anyway,” Cutmore said.
The Hunters, who have the bye this weekend in round 18, face the second-placed Redcliffe Dolphins away in round 19 and then have three consecutive home games versus the Easts Tigers (5th), defending champions Ipswich Jets (9th) and the table topping Burleigh Bears.
“After the bye we’ve got to travel down to Redcliffe and play the Dolphins who won’t want to lose their second place despite losing narrowly to Wynnum Manly (11-10) last round,” Cutmore, pictured, said.
“That’s a pretty tough road trip for us and they’ve got a lot to play for.
“The Townsville Blackhawks (in fourth spot) have two byes over the last seven rounds.
“That’s four points added automatically on to their total, so they’ll finish high and that means we just have to win our games so we can be there or thereabouts as well.”
The Hunters then have a tough two weekends following with trips to Townsville and Cairns to play the Blackhawks and Northern Pride before finishing the regular season at home hosting the Sunshine Coast Falcons in round 25.
Cutmore said if the Hunters finished first or second on the ladder they would get the first week of the finals off but depending on which of the top two slot they filled after the regular season they would host a finals game.
“If we finish in the top two we get a week off in the opening round of the finals series plus a second bite  at the cherry if we happen to lose our first finals game. The only way we host a finals game is if we finish first, third or fourth because those teams host finals matches in the opening two weeks of the finals,” he said.
The 64-year-old admitted that while finishing as high as possible was the aim, getting a home finals match was crucial as the Hunters had a strong home record with their last defeat in PNG a 22-16 loss to the Easts Tigers in round 17 of 2014.
In team news, the Hunters squad were all given a one week break after their 40-10 win over the Tweed Heads Seagulls last Sunday.
The squad will remain in Port Moresby but have six days off before returning to prepare for the Dolphins game on Sunday.
Cutmore said the victory over Tweed Heads was a game of two halves with the first frame being poor but the second making up for it.
Back-rower Brandy Peter is expected to be available for the next game while on the injury front prop Enock Maki (sternum), winger Philemon Kimisive (knee), back-rower Nickson Borana (knee), halfback Watson Boas (knee) are nursing various degrees of damage.