Expectations on the Papua New Guinea Hunters rugby league team will be much lower next season, following the departure of so many key players, according to head coach Michael Marum.
Willie Minoga, who scored the match-winning try in the 2017 Intrust Super Cup grand final, Wartovo Puara Jnr and Stargroth Amean have joined English second division side Barrow Raiders, while centre Thompson Teteh has linked up with brothers Ase and Watson Boas at Featherstone Rovers.
Marum said the departure of Minoga, Puara Junior and Teteh leaves Adex Wera as the only remaining foundation player in a new-look Hunters squad.
"They had talks in the past about leaving to other clubs and all we wanted for them to do was make sure they go to good clubs and make sure there's good competitions they play in so if they get there they will probably play well and get picked up by other clubs as well," he said.
"It's going to take a lot of pressure off. Last year we were defending champions and there was a lot of pressure - there was a lot of talk of us going back to back and that sort of thing," recalled Marum.
"We had a major incident in pre-season with the loss of the late Kato Ottio, who was part of the squad training. That sort of held us back a bit...but there's no pressure this time. We want to prepare the boys really well and make sure they go out there and compete against these teams week in week out."
The Hunters' 2018 Player of the Year Rhadley Brawa and Rookie of the Year Edene Gebbie have also moved offshore to Queensland Cup rivals Wynnum Manly Seagulls.
Fellow PNG Kumuls international Nixon Putt will also line up against his former side in 2019 with Norths Devils while Brendon Gotuno is on a trial and train deal with the Penrith Panthers.
Marum admitted the departure of Gebbie took him by surprise.
"We had him for one year and there was a bit more work to be done with him but he got picked up by Wynnum," he said.
"Hopefully down in Wynnym they've got a good coaching staff there and there's good people around that will assist him, help to improve his game and there's a few more areas in his game he needs to work on but we didn't think we were going to lose him that early."
The Hunters announced an extended 60-man training squad three weeks ago, with only 15 players retained from the 2018 team that failed to make the Intrust Super Cup playoffs.
The coaching staff have already culled 20 players with a further five set to be shown the door before Christmas.
"It's a bit tough. All our senior players left for clubs overseas and this young group some of them we only see them once a year or twice," said Marum.
"For them to train together and live in camp and do everything together is one thing, it's a bit tough but (we're) trying to put in extra time and make sure they follow the positions they need as well."
Michael Marum said he will trim the Hunters squad to 30 players in the new year before naming his final 25-man squad to compete in the 2019 Intrust Super Cup.