The Tweed Seagulls may have relinquished a top four finals position when they were outplayed and out-enthused by a smart and determined PNG Hunters at Bycroft Oval.
The Hunters won 30-18 with five-eighth Ase Boas and centre Emmanuel Waine outstanding as Tweed, with so much to play for, didn’t respect possession or their opponents enough and fumbled their way through with a completion rate of just over 50 per cent.
Coach Ben Woolf refused to blame the adversity his side has faced in recent weeks, that has seen them without a string of key players including halves Lindon McGrady, Toby Sexton and Luke Jurd, all goalkickers, and without a home ground or regular training field or gym because of COVID-19 restrictions.
However, if any Intrust Super Cup team has had as many hurdles to overcome, it has been the Hunters.
The Hunters have played the season away from home at their Runaway Bay complex, had to overcome the tragedy of talented centre Jokadi Bire, who was likely to have been picked up by an NRL club but for a serious health incident suffered while training and plenty of mid-season injuries.
“It was an out of character performance, that’s for sure,” Woolf said.
“We did completely what we said not to and we just couldn’t pull ourselves away from it. It seemed as though we weren’t content being tackled. We just wanted to promote the ball when we didn’t need to.
“We did create a few opportunities but didn’t make enough of them. But full credit to the Hunters, they played well, played smart, had a lot of possession and we couldn’t pull them back.”
Match: Hunters v Seagulls
Round 17 -
Venue: Bycroft Oval, Gold Coast
Tweed will have to rely on Redcliffe falling to seventh-placed Souths Logan Magpies tomorrow to retain fourth spot and have a second chance in the finals.
If the Dolphins win, Tweed will finish fifth and face a sudden death match against the Townsville Blackhawks, Magpies, Northern Pride or Sunshine Coast Falcons.
The Hunters were on top for almost all the match and were first to score after just four minutes when they gained possession from a Tweed error in yardage. The Hunters shifted the ball to the left and Gilimo Paul was put into space from a block play and shook off a tackle by John Macklin to make the line.
The Seagulls should have scored soon after when Liam Hampson followed through a Lee Turner grubber to the in-goal, but the referee ruled he knocked on as he tried to ground the bouncing ball. It was an appropriate metaphor for the Seagulls’ entire performance.
The Hunters took advantage of their good fortune. After Stanton Albert lost control of the ball as he tried to ground a neat stab kick by Edwin Ipape from dummy half, the Hunters were gifted possession when Ryland Jacobs dropped the ball on the second tackle and the Hunters shifted to the right on the third and Waine strolled over after given a comfortable overlap.
Turner made it 8-4 when, after two successive sets of possession, he beat two defenders from 30 metres with a step and a fend which halted the endless momentum the Hunters had for the first quarter of an hour.
Tweed should have scored soon after but Turner, on the first tackle after gaining the ball from Judah Rimbu fumble of a bomb, threw an unnecessary pass which went to the Hunters.
The Hunters continued to dominate possession with a smart kick-and-chase game while Tweed made too many unforced errors.
The Hunters deserved their half-time lead, which grew to 20-4 after a try to Epel Kapinias after quick hands shift to the right in the 29th minute and Waine, his second, in the 35th, which came off the back of a brilliant 20-40 kick from Boas.
Waine beat two tackles brilliantly during an outside-in angled run from 35 metres.
Four tries to one and 16 points behind as they took the field for the second half, knowing they were their own worst enemies in the first half by completing only four of 13 sets, Tweed needed to score first and change their attitude.
Despite again coughing up too much possession, the try came through skipper Lamar Liolevave when replacement halfback Tevin Arona, who had just come into the game 10 minutes after the break, put him into space near the line. Brayden McGrady again missed the conversion.
But it was the boot of Boas again that sunk the Seagulls. With no kick-pressure on him, he ran to the line on the last tackle, chipped over on the right from his own half, regathered and fed Solo Wane, who ran 30 metres into the right corner. That gave the Hunters a 20-8 lead with 20 minutes remaining.
Will Brimson gave Tweed some hope when he scored on the left edge in the 64th minute to make it 24-12 but Arona, the fifth string goalkicker behind Brayden McGrady and the absent Lindon McGrady, Toby Sexton and Luke Jurd, missed the conversion.
Boas sealed victory for the Hunters with a try in 70th minute to ensure they finished a tough season away from their homes in glory, even with a token converted try to Seagulls centre Turner in the 79th minute.