Fearless physicality was expected from the PNG Hunters on Saturday and that is what they delivered, with their enthusiastic forwards powering PNG to a 22-16 win over the ladder-leading Blackhawks.
A fierce fightback from a 22-10 deficit could not stop the Blackhawks having their nine-game winning streak broken, but they still retain top spot on the Intrust Super Cup ladder with a superior points differential.
Blackhawks hooker Anthony Mitchell is expected to play in his team’s next clash following this weekend’s bye after suffering a corked thigh near full-time, but Mitchell’s knock was not the only injury scare in what was a high-quality encounter.
Hunters fullback Stargroth Amean was stretchered off the field near half-time and hospitalised after falling awkwardly into a tackle, but was discharged on Saturday night after being cleared of any neck or spinal damage.
A lack of composure in attack from the Blackhawks was compensated by some brilliant scrambling defence, but the Hunters were simply too strong at Jack Manski Oval, with their second phase play proving especially dangerous.
“I don’t think it was until the last 10 or 15 minutes that we had confidence in what we were doing and backed our attack, and leading up to that we were disjointed and we went away from what’s been working for us,” Blackhawks captain Daniel Beasley said.
“We when into the game prepared for them to be very tough across the field, especially through the middle, and they’re a hard group of men who fight for 80 minutes.”
A packed house at Jack Manski — including hundreds of parochial PNG supporters — watched as both teams engaged in an early arm wrestle, which was broken after 15 minutes when Hunters five-eighth Israel Eliab scored the game’s opening point.
Plenty of big hits and dropped ball featured in the next 20-minute passage, before Noel Underwood got Townsville an equaliser running on to a Tom Humble shot ball, but PNG got a 10-4 half-time buffer when centre Thompson Teteh ran through some sloppy Blackhawks defence.
PNG were soon back in front, however, when Enock Maki barged over the tryline five minutes after half-time, and they pushed to 22-10 when half-back Ase Boas finished off a superb attacking play.
That was when the Blackhawks launched into gear, with Kyle Feldt pouncing on a Jahrome Hughes grubber, and ISC debutant Mitchell Seri almost barged over for a last-gasp equaliser, only to be denied by some desperate PNG defence.
“I certainly thought we had the side out there to win the game,” Blackhawks coach Kristian Woolf said.
“The more games you win the close you come to a loss sometimes, and the good thing from that is there’s no chance of us getting ahead of ourselves — and I don’t think we were — and it gives us a chance to go back and look at a few things.”
PNG HUNTERS 22 (Thompson Teteh, Israel Eliab, Ase Boas, Enock Maki: goals Noel Zeming 3) def TOWNSVILLE BLACKHAWKS 16 (Kyle Feldt, Tom Humble, Noel Underwood: goals Feldt 2
Source: Townsville Bulletine