NRL NEWS

The making of a grand final

For PNG Hunters coach Michael Marum, qualifying for the Intrust Super Cup Grand Final brought joy to a rugby league-obsessed nation of eight million people; for Craig Ingebrigtsen, the measure of his Falcons will come after 80 minutes on Sunday.

When the Hunters edged past Redcliffe 6-4 to qualify for their first grand final the relief creased across Marum's face spoke more than the jubilation being expressed by fans both inside and outside the packed National Football Stadium in Port Moresby.

After bowing out in the opening week of the finals the past two years, the pressure on the Hunters to win on home soil and secure their place in the decider was something unlike any other rugby league coach has perhaps experienced, the passion of supporters akin to that found in soccer fans in Europe and South America.

Like the country itself there had been political unrest prior to the introduction of the Hunters that tore the Papua New Guinea rugby league establishment apart almost to the point of no return but the Hunters have reinvigorated the Kumuls and given a country two teams to be proud of.

Winning on Sunday and earning a place in the Intrust Super State Championship on NRL Grand Final day would bring exposure to the game in PNG unlike ever before, but in some respects Marum believes the Hunters have already achieved something remarkable for their country.

"We've had a lot of issues with our game in the past and also in the country and I think a win on Sunday will unite the country together," Marum said.

"A lot of the politicians will probably come down and watch our game so they'll all be united for that 80 minutes.

"After that win last weekend, everywhere you walk, walking past young kids, all people they stop and talk to you about how much support they have for the team and saying good things about the game and how we've brought everyone together.

"We were up at the Parliament House on Wednesday and the Deputy Prime Minister was there for a luncheon up there which was really good.

"It was really good the comments they made about the team doing well for the country.

"We're fortunate that through this game, and through the Hunters, that we've united a country."

 


After two previous grand final appearances making a grand final is no longer enough for Falcons mentor Craig Ingebrigtsen.

The man who answers to 'Trigger' but whose players call 'The Duck' – "On the outside you're really calm and underneath your legs are pattering away" – guided Easts Tigers to the decider in 2013 and 2014 only to come away empty-handed both times.

"When I was at Easts it was a relief. Here it's not a relief, there's still work to be done," Ingebrigtsen told NRL.com of qualifying for the grand final.

"I find that that's my maturity and that's what I've learnt as a coach. I can't answer what the players think about that but from my perspective it was definitely a relief when I was at Easts but not here. I know we've got a job to do.

"I know what's at stake. It's the third time in five years, I don't want to let it slip."

Falcons skipper Dane Hogan was with Ingebrigtsen at Easts for the back-to-back grand final appearances but interestingly sees a calmer demeanour in his coach this year compared to that of a few years ago.

"I've noticed in him himself that he's probably been a bit calmer around us compared to the first couple of grand finals which just comes with experience," Hogan said.

"He's made sure us boys have all kept a level head all week and know the job that we have to do on Sunday.

"A lot of people underestimate his coaching ability but most of all he really cares about his players.

"It sort of feels like a family on the Sunshine Coast, the way we turn up to training and the way we turn up for each other.

"That's his best asset as a coach, managing his team and getting us ready for each week."

Superstars in their homeland, Marum concedes that there is the possibility that his team could be star-struck simply by the venue at which they are playing but believes the pressure to win on Sunday will pale in comparison to what they experienced just to get here.

"The one at home was a lot of expectation from everyone else. We felt a lot of pressure for that game against the Dolphins," Marum said of the grand final qualifier a fortnight ago.

"Coming into this game we knew we had qualified for the grand final. That was another big achievement apart from the minor premiership so we just basically relaxed all the way through.

"They had a few days off but they were not getting ahead of themselves."

All that's left now is to see whether a team that has achieved so much already or one with a point to prove will handle the occasion better.