Stage fright strikes as Hunters fall short
PNG Hunters coach Michael Marum admits the big stage affected his side's performance in their 42-18 loss to the Panthers on grand final day but is confident they'll be better for the experience.
The result was effectively decided by half-time with Penrith racing out to a 38-2 lead against the premiers of Queensland's Intrust Super Cup, but the Hunters outfit fought back to dominate late in the contest.
The Hunters kicked a penalty goal early before seven tries to the Panthers in the opening 40 minutes stunned a pro-PNG crowd at ANZ Stadium.
"If we look back on our season it's been a great year for us and to come all the way and play before the grand final is a big achievement for this side," Marum said after the result.
"All of the players have never been to Sydney and in this sort of venue. I'm proud of the efforts. We'll gain a lot of experience ourselves out of this for the future."
Penrith were led by strong performances from centre Tony Satini, who scored four first half tries alone, while the professionalism of former NRL hooker Mitch Rein around the ruck proved valuable– an area Marum conceded the Hunters lacked.
"They're a quality side with the NRL experience you need," he said.
"We didn't get on the front foot there. Our defence on the edges were concerning and it didn't work out until the second half.
"I told them [at half-time] to look at the scoreboard, everyone was watching back home so I wanted them to put a few points on.
"All we asked for was effort in the second half and I was pleased with that."
While the Hunters' season officially comes to an end, the national side will begin preparations for the Rugby League World Cup as early as next week.
Marum confirmed the squad is set to receive a boost with a host of NRL stars in Alex Johnston, Nene MacDonald and James Segeyaro set to be named for the Kumuls.
"They've got no more games now so we'll go back home and spend some time with family," Marum said.
"We'll celebrate last week and for making it this far. A few of our players in this team will be named in that squad."