Hunters seeking grand final revenge over Falcons
Twelve months after breaking the hearts of more than eight million people with a stunning finals upset, the Sunshine Coast Falcons will meet a PNG Hunters team desperate to exact revenge in Sunday's Intrust Super Cup Grand Final at Suncorp Stadium.
More than 8000 tickets have already been pre-sold for the culmination of the Queensland Rugby League's premier competition with Suncorp Stadium officials predicting a bumper crowd of around 11,000 to generate an electric atmosphere, the winning team progressing to the Intrust Super State Championship on NRL Grand Final day.
After finishing fourth last season expectations were high in Papua New Guinea that with a home final the Hunters would push for a grand final berth only for the Falcons to turn around after a 34-4 defeat and stun the capacity crowd at the National Football Stadium with an 18-12 win that knocked the Hunters out of the competition.
It's a loss that coach Michael Marum hasn't since forgotten and made the qualifying final win over Redcliffe a fortnight ago even more memorable.
"Probably that was one game I couldn't forget after that final 80 minutes in Port Moresby last year," Marum said at Friday's captain's call.
"We had a good win against them and then the week after they came up and beat us. It was a close game but that really hurt us up at home."
The look of relief on Marum's face after their heart-stopping 6-4 win over Redcliffe in Week Two of the finals spoke to the volume of pressure that the Hunters carry into every game that they play.
Packed grandstands were sent into a state of delirium, politicians were on the sideline hugging Marum and his players and the celebrity status enjoyed by the Hunters players went into another stratosphere.
The reception that Hunters players now receive rivals that which is experienced by the Australian Prime Minister's XIII on their annual visit and while there have been functions such as those at Parliament House in the lead-up to the grand final, Marum has made sure to use their two-week preparation to continue to connect with the community that follows their success so closely.
"It helps us with our recovery and with that two weeks off we didn't just take it easy," Marum said of their extra week to prepare.
"We still did a lot of work. We used that other two weeks for getting the messages out to the schools and we visited hospitals and that sort of thing.
"We were going back to our communities and helping and passing the message about healthy living and stuff like that.
"The boys were pretty much relaxed all throughout the week. We didn't take them away from the city, we stayed together and trained well and they were all in good spirits last night before I left them."
Whether the experience of playing at Suncorp Stadium for the first time will in fact be easier than giving local fans that victory so craved so desperately remains to be seen but Falcons coach Craig Ingebrigtsen – a man proficient in pre-match mind games – was adamant as to who deserved to take the favourites tag into Sunday's decider.
"They've got the coach of the year, they've got the player of the year, they were minor premiers so I don't have to say much more I don't think," Ingebrigtsen told NRL.com.
"They've had that week off and I don't know whether that's good or bad. Their first flight has been delayed today (Friday), all those sorts of things will play on their mind.
"They're coming to the big dance in our backyard and I just think it's going to be a tremendous game.
"There's two really, really good sides playing on Sunday so whoever wins is going to deserve to win the competition."