Rugby league’s feelgood story, and fairytale if you will, fell one week short as the PNG Hunters were smashed 42-18 by the Penrith Panthers in the NRL State Championship in Sunday afternoon’s Grand Final curtain raiser.
It was a shame after the excitement and ecstasy of the previous Sunday’s Intrust Super Cup Grand Final win that the NRL State Championship went so badly wrong for the PNG Hunters, but the ride throughout the 2017 has been a good one, and we’ve enjoyed most of the minutes this season. The first 60 in yesterday’s game aside.
So it’s time to pack away the PNG Flag, homemade PNG Hat and Hunters Grand Final T Shirt, until the Rugby League World Cup starts that is, but before we do here’s some thoughts on the PNG Hunters final game for the year.
PENRITH TOO BIG, TOO STRONG, TOO FAST, TOO GOOD, TOO EVERYTHING
On paper the Hunters faced a hard task, a side with some decent NRL experience, and the overwhelming favourites for the game, and that reality hit hard by the 15th minute when Penrith centre Tony Santini had wrapped up a hatrick after the Panthers were carving up the Hunters with each attacking set, through the middle and down the left side.
That left the Hunters down 16-2, and it was only to get worse from there. The Panthers scored four more first half tries, some with frightening ease, as they struggled to keep up with the big, mobile and skillful Penrith pack.
They eventually went to the break a huge 38-2 down, the added salt applied on the half time siren as Tony Santini scored his fourth try.
Penrith deserved the NRL State Championship, and given their shellacking of the Hunters – Queensland’s best in 2017 – it is promising times for the Mountain Men.
LESS DROPPED BALL BUT MISSED TACKLES HURT
Maybe it was a by product of having less ball thanks to Penirth’s superiority, but the Hunters did much better with the ball control in the NRL State Championship on Sunday.
Missed tackles were the main worry, as the Hunters had missed a huge 30 by half time, a statistic that directly flowed onto the 38-2 score line.
Their determined goal line defence which had kept Redcliffe try-less during the final series, somehow kept the Sunshine Coast Falcons to two tries and repelled the Townsville Blackhawks for 15 minutes late in the season went missing on Sunday in the first half. It improved in the second half, and so did the margin between the two sides.
But the experience of the two Grand Finals will make the Hunters all the better, and maybe the nerves that came with the big occasion won’t be an issue next year when they come back for more and revenge.
COULD THE GAME HAVE CHANGED OFF ADEX WERA’s HANDS
Adex Wera was great for the Hunters, and he was involved in the Hunters best try scoring chance in the first half. Chasing a grubber from Stargroth Amean he appeared to knee the ball forward and Amean dived on the ball to score. The Video Referee was called upon with a verdict of try sent upstairs. However The Bunker correctly ruled that Wera had just touched the ball with his fingers.
A shame as that would have left the score 28-8 and hd the Hunters with the momentum for the first time in the game, and given their second half comeback of three tries to one it could have been much closer.
As it was Penrith score two tries in three minutes after the No Try decision to definitively take control of the game.
What ifs are all good to discuss, and the fact is what happened is what happened, but allow our mind to wonder for a bit.
COULD THE HUNTERS NEW BLUEPRINT FOR BIG GAMES COME FROM LAST 15 MINUTES
The Hunters can take a massive positive away from the NRL State Championship as they were able to win the second half 16-4 over a side who had completely dominated them in the first 40 minutes.
Sure, sides that far in front do tend to drop off a little in those circumstances, but the Hunters can still be very proud of their finish to the big game.
There is one question from their great second half run….was their increased ball movement and cavalier approach a better way to attack the big games.
We say maybe a little.
PNG Hunters were quite limited in attack, hurt by the amount of defending they had to do, resorting mainly to one out hit ups. And as ferocious as they are given the effort put in by the Hunters runners, it wasn’t breaking down Penrith at all.
The Hunters won a lot of fans early with their different approach to rugby league, and their ability to offload in seemingly any situation, but it didn’t result in winning the title in their first three seasons. Slowly the Hunters have become a more modern rugby league side, and that worked fine throughout the Intrust Super Cup final series, but maybe against the more experienced sides like Penrith the powerful running up the middle isn’t quite enough. Their ball movement troubled Penrith in the end, and who says that more than 15 minutes of it couldn’t have made it a closer game.
Perhaps with the 2017 Intrust Super Cup title secured they can afford to be a little more cavalier in 2018, and go one step further. We hope.
ANY WORLD CUP KUMULS IMPACTS?
One of the PNG Kumuls big advantages heading into the World Cup – their three home games in Port Moresby in front of rugby league’s most passionate fans – will be that no other nation will have as many players from the one sides who play week in and week out together.
The Kumuls should feature plenty of Hunters, but perhaps their nerves in the big games means that a few that were right on the edge of selection may miss out.
Some Hunters who are must includes are the Boas brothers in the halves, the Albert brothers in the engine room, of course Willie Minoga should always be included for impact, Moses Meninga and Wartovo Puara have got to be a chance from the pack, and the backline should feature Adex Wera, Stargroth Amean and possibly Bland Abavu if not in their usual position.
But the temptation to grab as many NRL stars is obvious, and why wouldn’t you when the potential of Alex Johnston and David Mead is available, but if there is a 50-50 then the Hunters 2017 season as a whole should count for something at selection time.
NOTHING CAN TAKE AWAY THE GREAT DAY OUT SUNCORP STADIUM
As disappointing as the NRL State Championship was, the memories of that Willie Minoga try at Suncorp Stadium for the Intrust Super Cup still linger, and required just a few viewings of that last five minutes.
Their first Intrust Super Cup win was the best experience at a live game of any sport of all time, and will take some kind of event or achievement to beat it in the near future.
Maybe an NRL State Championship next year?