SP PNG Hunters coach Stanley Tepend says preseason squad member and Lae Tigers fullback Sanny Wabo deserves his spot in the Hostplus Cup team.
Tepend responded to critics saying there was no nepotism in the Hunters selection processes and every player had made the team strictly on merit.
He said Wabo was an experienced fullback in the Digicel Cup and replaced PNG Kumul Edene Gebbie, who left the Hunters preseason training prematurely.
Wabo was named in the Hunters’ initial 40-man pre-season squad in December but took up another deal with a third-tier club in the Sunshine Coast Rugby League.
However, the deal didn’t work out and Wabo was recalled into the Hunters early last week where he started training with the side.
Tepend said Papua New Guinea international Gebbie, who showed interest to play for the Hunters in 2023, left the club halfway through preseason as he wanted to pursue a move to Australian competitions.
The PNG Hunters took to Bycroft Oval at Runaway Bay, with a host of supporters in attendance, and produced a stunning 32-24 win over competition heavyweights Burleigh Bears.
The Hunters started strongly and maintained their dominance right through until the final stages to notch an emotional victory at their home-away-from-home in Runaway Bay.
The Hunters defended their errors strongly to begin the game, pressuring Bears winger Tony Francis into dropping the ball in Burleigh’s first attacking movement and then cleaning up a dangerous Guy Hamilton grubber shortly afterwards.
The confidence with which the Hunters defended their line then quickly translated into their efforts with the ball. A clever chip kick from Kingstimer Paraia from inside his own half forced an error from the Bears and fullback Tyler Han was in perfect position to punish the mistake, plucking the loose ball out of the air and running in the Hunters' first try in the sixth minute.
Hunters prop Francis Kembis was next to get in on the action when he scored beside the right upright in the 13th minute. Some lovely deception from hooker Wartovo Puara fooled the ruck defence and pitched Kembis into half a gap on the Bears tryline and the powerful front rower would not be denied from there.
The Hunters were almost in again in the 30th minute when a smart left edge shift through Judah Rimbu and Han created the space for Han to drop a grubber kick into the in goal. Hunters centre Benji Kot won the race to the ball but the Hunters were called back for an obstruction in the lead up.
The Bears managed to slow the Hunters' momentum as the game settled into a grind but didn’t look like threatening to score as the Hunters dominated proceedings to take a 12-0 lead into the break.
Reigning Dally M Centre of the Year Justin Olam has extended his contract with the Storm for a further four years, keeping him in Melbourne until at least the end of the 2026 season.
The Papua New Guinea international Olam made his first-grade debut for the Storm in 2018 and has established himself as one of the finest centres in the game, playing 76 NRL games to date including the 2020 Telstra Premiership Grand Final.
The Redcliffe Dolphins will retain the Stan Joyce Cup in 2022 having defeated a fast-finishing Hunters side 30-16 in miserable conditions on Saturday in Round 9 of the QRL Hostplus Cup.
The Dolphins were animated from the kick-off, capitalising on a Hunters’ forward pass and ruck infringement in the opening sets to camp themselves on PNG’s try line. The Hunters were defending well until Redcliffe hooker Sheldon Pitama spied some space around the ruck and slid over in the slippery conditions to give Redcliffe a four point lead.
The Hunters would respond immediately, working upfield from the kick-off thanks to a relieving penalty before punching through Redcliffe’s middle to set up for a right edge shift. Hunters halfback Jamie Mavoko would provide the deft grubber for Rodrick Tai on the last tackle to bring the scores to 6-4.
The SP PNG Hunters have announced a strategic pathways partnership with the Dolphins NRL franchise that will include participation in a full NRL pre-season for four young Papua New Guinean players.
This agreement will provide a genuine pathway for Papua New Guinean rugby league players beginning in the Digicel Cup, through to the Hunters and right into an NRL system.
The partnership is in alignment with the Hunters’ strategic plan to develop more Papua New Guinean players into the NRL competition by 2025.
Under the agreement, four Hunters’ players will attend a full pre-season with the Dolphins NRL squad, starting in 2023.
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