PNG Hunters to play on NRL Grand Final Day
The PNG Hunters have overcome the weight of eight million rabid rugby league fans back home to score a stunning last-minute, 12-10 grand final win over the Sunshine Coast Falcons and change the Intrust Super Cup forever.
After seven minutes the Hunters trailed 10-0 and looked to be completely overawed by the occasion of playing on Suncorp Stadium for the very first time, but the longer the game went the more the momentum grew yet boundless errors and missed opportunities seemed to allow a brave Falcons team to hold on.
The Hunters will now travel to Sydney to play either Wyong or Penrith in the Intrust Super Championship and take centre stage in front of 80,000 fans on NRL Grand Final day next Sunday.
After bombing a chance to score eight minutes earlier, it was Willie Minoga who followed through on an Ase Boas grubber kick in the 79th minute to level the scores at 10-all, Boas sealing the most famous day in PNG rugby league history with a conversion from just to the right of the posts.
Trailing 10-0 at the break after an awful start to the decider, a simple drop of the kick-off to the second half by Scott Drinkwater gave the Hunters a gift-wrapped chance to swing the momentum to the raptures of the parochial PNG contingent.
It was messy, and referee Jarrod Cole sent it for review as a 'no try' but video referee Clayton Sharpe determined that the grubber by Ase Boas rifled into the feet of the Falcons players was not knocked on by the chasing Hunters players and Bland Abavu released Watson Boas to score their first try of the grand final.
The entire second half felt as though it was spent with the Hunters pounding away at the Falcons defence only to make error after error in attack and drain all the energy out of an expectant crowd waiting for the go-ahead play.
A Watson Boas 40/20 in the 54th minute failed to lead to points, Falcons captain Dane Hogan was heavily concussed shortly afterwards and inexplicably stayed on the field for four minutes before eventually being dragged by the trainers and Watson Boas twice made basic handling errors inside the Falcons' red zone.
Ten minutes from full-time Minoga looked like crashing through a gaping hole courtesy of a Wartovo Puara pass but let the ball slip through his fingers with the line wide open as the Falcons again turned them away.
Watson Boas was stretched from the field after copping a heavy head knock defending his try-line and as expectation grew the clock ticked away on the Hunters' incredible dream that is now a reality.
After a frantic start it appeared that the composure and professionalism of the Falcons would be far too good for the passion of the PNG team who did well to fight their way back into the contest only to cruel the try-scoring opportunities they had with errors attacking the Falcons' line.
Their best chance of the first half went astray when a Moses Meninga offload hit the ground and David Loko and Brandy Peter both made errors on the first tackle inside the Falcons' 10-metre line as they dominated territory without having anything to show for it.
The Falcons got off to the perfect start when Jahrome Hughes sent winger Matthew Soper-Lawler on a weaving run to the tryline with a one-handed flick pass inside the first two minutes and the Storm connection struck again five minutes later when Ryley Jacks sent Joe Stimson slicing through on the left.
The game threatened to escape the Hunters' reach before many of the fans flooding into Suncorp Stadium could take their seats but every time they put pressure on the Falcons they committed the cardinal sins of giving away unnecessary penalties or making basic errors.
PNG Hunters 12 (Watson Boas, Willie Minoga tries; Ase Boas 2 goals) def. Sunshine Coast Falcons 10 (Matthew Soper-Lawler, Joe Stimson tries; Stimson 1 goal) at Suncorp Stadium. Crowd: 11,260 (record for Cup Grand Final).