It was a fairy-tale finish but the PNG Hunters last gasp Intrust Super Cup Grand Final win over the Sunshine Coast Falcons last Sunday was their destiny. The game typified the Hunters year. For all their undoubted attacking flair, the difference this year has been their defence, particularly on their line.
Boasting the 2nd best defensive record during the regular season, the Hunters turned it on even more in the final series keeping top points scorers Redcliffe try-less in the Major Semi Final and despite being down 10 nil inside the first 10 minutes, then denying the Falcons any further points in the Grand Final. Raid after Falcon raid was repelled and with it the Hunters confidence grew.
Whilst their execution let them down in the attacking third, one felt it was only a matter of time before the Hunters prevailed. As Scott Sattler noted on Channel 9 commentary, many sides have confided that attacking against the Hunters requires significant exertion of effort given the ferocity of their defence. Falcon and Storm five eighth Ryley Jacks noted similar sentiments post-match suggesting that the Hunters physicality was equal to the NRL.
As the game wore on the draining nature of the Hunters play began to show on the Falcons as the Hunters began to impose their physical dominance manifesting itself when Willie Minoga scored the match winner with 90 seconds on the clock.
The Hunters now travel to the Sydney to play in the pinnacle of the NRL season with an opportunity to showcase their brand of football to the broader rugby league world. The Penrith Panthers await as the NSW Cup winners and with significant NRL experience in their ranks will fancy their chances against the Hunters.
But as the Hunters have shown in 2017, they are more than capable of matching it with players of NRL pedigree. It is worth noting that both NRL Grand finalists, the Storm and the Cowboys, have feeder teams playing in the QLD Cup along with semi-finalist Brisbane. The fact the Panthers have several players of NRL ilk will be of no concern to PNG.
The Panthers will bring NRL Experience, discipline, size and professionalism to the game and have been the best team all year in the Intrust super Premiership. For all those reasons, most pundits will have the Panthers as odds on to beat PNG but win, lose or draw one thing will be for sure – The world will get to see the PNG Hunters Brand on show. Unpredictability. Bravery. Fearless. Camaraderie. Teamwork. Brutal physicality. Athleticism. Flair. Frustration. Perseverance. All rolled into one amazing package.
The Panthers may well be able to counter all of the above but what they will not be able to better is the fact that the Hunters play for 2 things. Firstly, for the love of the game. Pure and simple. They eat, live and sleep Rugby League. Simple men earning a comparatively frugal and equal wage giving it their best for the game that they love. Watching Willie Minoga shed tears of joy at Suncorp exemplified what playing for the Hunters means to them. Secondly, they play for their 8 million countrymen and women in PNG.
They represent the dreams and pride of a nation and know that giving it their all will lift the spirits of their people. These 2 factors are the intangible difference why the Hunters will win on Sunday.
Penrith will undoubtedly go in favourites on Sunday but the Hunters have had their final. Sunday is a party and the world will finally see what the Hunters are all about.