Matt Harris, Queensland Correspondent
The PNG Hunters have survived an almighty scare by a desperate and courageous Sunshine Coast Falcons outfit, holding on for an entertaining 16-4 victory in Round 8 action of the Intrust Super Cup.
Football historians will record the 12-point defeat as the Falcons' 27th-straight loss but coach Ivan Henjak's men had every reason to walk off Stockland Stadium with their heads held high after going toe-to-toe with the imposing Hunters for the entire match.
The win by the Hunters and upset results elsewhere have the new boys just one point from top spot that is now shared by the Ipswich Jets, Northern Pride and Norths Devils. Ipswich came from 18-0 down to stun the previously undefeated Pride 24-18, Souths Logan upset Norths 26-10 and Central Queensland Capras opened their account for 2014 with a 26-18 defeat of Wynnum Manly. Mackay breathed life into their premiership defence with a 22-12 win over Redcliffe and Cody Walker did his hopes of an NRL debut with the Storm no harm with four tries in Easts' 48-20 defeat of Burleigh.
On the Sunshine Coast the Falcons were trailing 12-4 inside the final 20 minutes but were left to rue their poor ball handling and lack of execution in attack, with both of these rugby league vices costing the home side dearly as they subsequently led to the Hunters' match-sealing try in the 65th minute.
Despite launching a late surge towards an unlikely victory, the Falcons couldn't control the ball for extended periods and looked devoid of fifth-tackle options, ensuring that they remain winless at the foot of the ISC table.
Underneath glorious blue skies at Stockland Stadium, the Falcons dominated possession in the opening minutes and were unlucky to concede the opening try in the sixth minute. Deep into an attacking set, Falcons' five-eighth Brett Doherty drilled a grubber kick intended for the in-goal area.
However, much to the dismay of Doherty, the ball rebounded off the legs of Israel Eliab and PNG's captain raced 95 metres downfield to hand the Hunters a 4-0 lead against the run of play.
The Hunters crossed again in the 11th minute when nuggetty halfback Roger Laka scooted away to score next to the posts after good lead-up work from Sebastian Pandia, Laka duly adding the extras making it 10-0. In the 18th minute PNG were awarded a penalty and Laka stepped up again to add a further two points, extending the Hunters' lead to 12-0.
Constant errors crept into the contest from the 20-minute mark until the final five minutes of the half as a result of the free-flowing and carefree style of football created by both sides. In the 35th minute the Falcons were finally rewarded for some tenacious defence, striking back with a four-pointer after an anxious wait on a video referee decision. With the try eventually awarded to lively Falcons' No.6 Doherty, the 21-year-old attempted to add the extras, but shanked his effort to keep the score at 12-4 heading into half-time.
The razzle-dazzle football continued after the break with both sides coming close to crossing the stripe, however, as was the case with first-forty, a lack of execution ensured the scoreboard would remain unchanged heading into the 60th minute.
One minute later and with the game in the balance, a Falcons knock on gave PNG a chance to go on the attack, but they were denied again by some resilient Sunshine Coast defence enabling the home side to march up the field and force a line drop-out.
However, the drop out yielded no result with the Hunters stampeding their way back into attacking territory and forcing another Falcons mistake off a last-tackle kick, allowing the visitors another chance to put the game beyond doubt.
From the resulting scrum the Hunters shifted the ball wide, finding enough space for skipper Eliab to cross for his second try. Roger Laka had the opportunity to stretch PNG's lead beyond two converted tries, but his effort struck the left post and the score remained 16-4 with 15 minutes remaining.
The Falcons toiled away and had numerous chances to score their second try in order to set the game up for a bustling finish, but once again their wastefulness inside their attacking red zone ensured the Hunters would hold on for their fifth win of the season.
PNG Hunters 16 (I Eliab 2, R Laka tries; R Laka 2 goals) def. Sunshine Coast Falcons 4 (B Doherty try) at Stockland Stadium, Kawana. Half-time: Hunters 12-4. Referee: Robert Gallacher. XXXX Man of the Match: Israel Eliab.
For full results from Round 8 and the Intrust Super Cup competition table click here.