Sport: New-look PNG Hunters face biggest test yet

10:14 am on 9 March 2019

Ready or not, the new-look Papua New Guinea Hunters open their Intrust Super Cup rugby league season away to Tweed Heads Seagulls this weekend.

The 2017 Premiers missed the playoffs last season while a number of senior players have departed for clubs in the UK and Australia.

More than half of their squad are new to the Intrust Super Cup this year, with captain Adex Wera the only player left from their inaugural campaign in 2014.

Assistant coach Nigel Hukula admits the opening round of competition has snuck up on them a bit.

"We were unable to have those trial games that we would have liked to but I think we're as ready as we can be going into this and we're optimistic with having a look at our roster and the young blokes coming through," said Nigel Hukula.

"We're going into this to have a look at where we are with our combinations particularly and we also know that other teams will be sort of feeling their way around it. The first one to five weeks we'd like to get that out of the way and then we will work from there."

The PNG Hunters fine tune their preparations for the 2019 season.

The PNG Hunters fine tune their preparations for the 2019 season. Photo: PNG Rugby League

Five new caps will start for the PNG Hunters on Sunday, with fullback Joe Joshua, wingers Brendon Nima and Gairo Kapana, and backrowers Daniel Tapol and Junior Rop all named in the run-on side to take on Tweed Heads, while Nicky Hasu and Joe Frank are poised to make their debut off the bench.

With so many new faces in the squad this season, Nigel Hukula admits it will be tough to reach the heights of previous campaigns but says the aim is to be competitive and take things one game at a time.

"There is obviously the standards that have been set or the benchmark has been set by previous players and outcomes and that's something we strive to work towards also, with our training and our processes to compete as much as possible," said Nigel Hukula.

The PNG Hunters have won six of their previous nine matches against Tweed Heads, including home and away victories last season.

But Nigel Hukula said history is exactly that and he expects the hosts will be bolstered on Sunday afternoon with the inclusion of some fringe players from the Gold Coast Titans NRL side.

"In 2017 we lost two games, both home and away, to Tweed and we ended up winning the (Intrust Super) Cup. Then last year we had the two wins against them (and missed the playoffs) so we've had a good track record but records are there and history is there but it's pretty much how we turn up on the day and hopefully we stick to our processes and the boys can come up with a positive result," said Nigel Hukula.

The 2019 PNG Hunters squad.

The 2019 PNG Hunters squad. Photo: Facebook/SP PNG Hunters