Posted By Staff Reporter
THE Papua New Guinea Hunters are down but certainly not out.
Despite recent poor form, the SP Lager franchise threw out suggestions that the re-shuffling of players was a sign of desperation.
With another huge assignment against the Tweed Heads Seagulls on Sunday, coach Michael Marum was confident his charges would break the drought.
“It’s a must-win game for us to get us back on track for the remaining four games at home and three away,” Marum said yesterday from Kokopo.
“The Hunters have not detoured from their aim to make the top five play-offs. We have just hit the business end of a long season and the players are struggling with the mental toughness of what is expected of them.”
Marum agreed they had picked up bad habits on and off the field that had affected the players, but was still positive that they would knuckle down and weather the storm.
He added that Tweed Heads had the home ground advantage plus a few others factors that would make the Hunters’ job all the more difficult.
“The Seagulls have a big pack with several NRL players and they also would have benefitted from an opposed hit-out with the Queensland Maroons on Monday,” Marum said.
Marum agreed they had issues with stopping big men making easy yards up the middle third of the field and knew that was where the Seagulls would try to dominate.
“With injuries to props Essau Siune and Joe Bruno, plus utility Tiger Eemere and several with niggling injuries including Timothy Lomai and Willie Minoga…the guys are doing it tough especially with only 20 players to choose from,” Marum said.
Marum said calling on backrowers David Loko and Brandy Peter to fill the void in the engine room would test their resolve.
“Both know what is expected of them and also those on the inter-change bench. It will be touch and go but I’m sure we’ll manage.”
In regards to his regular starter at dummy-half in Wartovo Puara Junior, who has started in all matches, the former Kumul explained that apart from a slight hamstring injury teams had started to focus more on shutting down the dynamic rake and limiting his impact on games with extra defensive pressure as well as sending more runners down his channel.
Marum said the 24-year-old needed to adapt to this and take his game to the next level.
“Starting him (Puara) off the bench should be a wake-up call for him.”
“Lawrence (Tu’u) is a proven performer as a utility and am sure he will relish the opportunity to get a starting role in his favoured hooking position as well,” Marum said.
Marum said the move to have his skipper (Israel Eliab) at fullback was nothing new, as with having Adex Wera starting in the centres.
“Izzy will give us a better kick return and already showed that when he played the second-half against the Pride (Northern) recently.”
In regards to the bench, Marum said he is likely to go for three forwards and a back with Minoga to back up in the centres or wing if needed.
With Albert Patak and Timothy Lomai likely to be rested for inflaming their old injuries, the four players likely to be on the interchange are Puara Jr, Minoga, Stanton Albert, Thompson Teteh and Edward Goma the 18th player.
Meanwhile, winger Gary Lo, who scored four tries against the Northern Pride last round, has moved up to share the top of the Queensland Cup leading try-scorers ladder with 18 so far this season.
Remarkably – he has joined two players for a three-way tie for the top spot; with Henare Wells (Burleigh Bears) and Tom Merritt (Tweed Heads Seagulls) also crossing the stripe 18 times this season.
Next in line – all with 12 tries – are Marmin Barba (Ipswich Jets), Mitchell Frei (Wynnum Manly Seagulls) and Jarrod McInally (Easts Tigers).
Hunters: 1. Israel Eliab 2. Gary Lo 3. Noel Zeming 4. Adex Wera 5. Jason Tali 6. Dion Aiye 7. Roger Laka 8. Brandy Peter 9. Lawrence Tu’u 10. David Loko 11. Sebsatian Pandia 12. George Benson 13. Adam Korave. Reserves: 14. Timothy Lomai 15. Willie Minoga 16. Stanton Albert 17. Wartovo Puara Junior 18. Edward Goma 19. Thompson Teteh 20. Albert Patakp
PNG Facts/ The National