Round 13 – Falcons vs PNG Hunters in the Pacific Alliance Cup
26 – 12
|Todd Murphy (C)
Polselli double inspires second half surge against Hunters
Ian Apps – Sunshine Coast Falcons correspondent
The Sunshine Coast Falcons have pounced on a fast-starting PNG Hunters in a gritty come-from-behind 26-12 victory at home on Saturday afternoon.
The Falcons home fans have been deprived of reasons to cheer so far this year but there was plenty of noise coming out of Sunshine Coast Stadium.
Until today, the Falcons had only notched up two home wins this season, with the last coming over two months ago in Round 6; and within the first few minutes of the game, the Falcons knew that if they were going to win a third, they would be forced to really hustle.
Today’s match was played for the Pacific Alliance Cup, which is played annually to commemorate the special bond between Australia and PNG forces who joined together in battle during World War II.
In the most appropriate way, the first 15 minutes were both tense and brutal in equal measure. The Hunters were staunch in defence and adventurous in attack, putting the Falcons’ edge defenders on notice by shifting early ball to their centres and wingers.
The Hunters left-side attack of Benji Kott and Joe Joshua looked dangerous, as the Hunters focussed their running and kicking game down the Falcons right side, targeting the Falcons half / centre defensive combination of Todd Murphy and Nathan Saumalu, the latter returning to the Falcons squad for the first time this year.
This tactic proved to be a stroke of genius by Hunters coach Matt Church as second rower Kott opened the scoring, crossing for the Hunters first try in the 18th minute.
‘If it aint broke, don’t fix it’ was the game plan for the visitors and the Hunters continued to pepper the Falcons right edge defence, before Kott crossed nine minutes later for a first half double.
While the Falcons were able to put a halt to the Hunters scoring momentum, they weren’t able to apply any scoreboard pressure of their own. The kicking game from the halves combination of Murphy and Jack Wright was mostly ineffective, with almost every kick being taken on the full or going dead.
This was then compounded by a number of errors, six-again calls and penalties, leaving fans wary of another ominous result as the first half concluded with the Hunters leading 10-0.
But whatever special sauce Sam Mawhinney served up to his Falcons at half-time well and truly did the trick. Execution was the focus in the second half and only a couple of minutes into the second half, the comeback was on with fullback Luke Polselli crossing to open the their account.
It was a standout game for the No. 1 who inserted himself in the Falcons attack at every opportunity, and as Hunters middle forwards started to fatigue, the home side really put the foot down and the points started to flow.
Murphy grabbed the game by the collar and totally dominated the second half, showing up on both sides of the ruck, controlling the tempo and directing the traffic.
In a throwback to what was an outstanding 2019 campaign where he was the competition’s highest point scorer, Murphy found himself on the end of a well-placed grubber and crossed for a four-pointer of his own.
In a fitting finish, Polselli – the man who opened the Sunshine Coast’s account for the afternoon – was the man to close the game out, rounding out the win with a four-pointer double and arguably a player of the match performance.
The Hunters second half was spirited, but ultimately nothing they did proved effective in slowing the Falcons down and the home team sent their fans home happy.
They now push to 12 points on the competition ladder, six points clear of the Hunters and Tigers and only one win outside of the top eight.
If the Falcons are any chance of pushing into late September, next week’s third-placed opponents, the Tweed Seagulls will be a good yard stick in Murgon.