Sport: PNG Hunters to stay in Queensland after opening win

10:46 am on 16 March 2020

Papua New Guinea's Hunters rugby league team will remain in Queensland following travel restrictions brought in by the Australian government to stop the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus.

The Hunters made a winning start to the 2020 Intrust Super Cup season last night, rallying from 24 points down to beat the Souths Logan Magpies 32-30 in Brisbane.

Hunters captain Ase Boas fires a pass in a final training session at home.

Hunters captain Ase Boas (c) slotted five conversions and the match-winning penalty against the Magpies. Photo: Melvin Levongo/RNZ Pacific

But travel restrictions introduced by the Australian government from today require all overseas arrivals to self-isolate for 14 days.

The Hunters were scheduled to host the Townsville Blackhawks on Sunday in Port Moresby but any teams travelling to PNG would then be unable to play for two weeks upon their return to Australia.

Hunters head coach Matt Church held discussions with Queensland Rugby League and PNGRFL officials last night and said the team had decided to remain where they were for now.

"We just had a couple of tough conversations about what that looks like for us because it comes down to us if we leave Australia do we participate for the next few weeks or not," he said.

"So, we've made a decision to just base ourselves in South East Queensland for the next seven days so we can continue to play in round two and obviously more news will come to light in the next few days or the next week and then we can make an informed decision on what our season looks like.

"I know if I'm the Blackhawks coach I wouldn't have wanted my team to travel and be out of the country for 48 hours if the border closing was going to be imminent and obviously with the [Australian] government making that decision for us all it's sort of forced our hand on what we're going to do so like today - we were down 30-6 - we just need to adapt and keeping working and pushing hard for a good result."

New PNG Hunters coach Matt Church (2R) issues instructions at training.

New PNG Hunters coach Matt Church (2R) issues instructions at training. Photo: Facebook/PNG Hunters

While the defensive end needs some work, Church was encouraged by the attitude and resilience shown by the Hunters players in his first proper match in charge.

"I think last year, if we look back on their results at the back-end of the year, they had quite a few points put on them and quite regularly so the hardest part about that is trying to turn around that self-image so it was interesting at 30-6 just after half-time to see how the boys were going to respond," he said.

"We didn't really build any pressure in the first half - we were completing our sets well but we just weren't getting effective kicks away or getting to our kick.

"We were getting tackled on the last tackle and stuff like that so it's hard to build pressure that way so if we were going to get back in the game the first thing we needed to do was just build some pressure and the boys did that, got on a roll and thankfully didn't go away from what was working for them."

The National Rugby League season is continuing at this stage but chief executive Todd Greenberg said the governing body was reviewing all its options, including isolating players and suspending the season.

Reports from Australia suggest the competition could be suspended as early as today and Church expects Queensland Rugby League will follow any steer from NRL headquarters.

"Obviously they can't do any long-term guarantees because they're driven by what governments and what the NRL do," he said.

"They've pledged all their support in any way they can help us. Obviously we only travelled with 18 guys to Australia so if we don't return we don't have time to get our guys that are back home in PNG [into Australia] before the midnight curfew so we just have to go ahead with our 18 guys.

"Unfortunately, one of the guys [Rahdly Brawa] broke his arm in the game today so that reduced it down to 17 so that's just another challenge we have to learn to adapt [to] and overcome."

PNG Hunters side at the 2020 Queensland ISC launch.

PNG Hunters side at the 2020 Queensland ISC launch. Photo: Facebook / SP PNG Hunters

Eleven members of the Hunters wider-squad remain in PNG and will continue training at their Port Moresby base while the rest of the squad is in Australia.

Matt Church said it would be challenging for the players being away from home for an extended period and the staff would do everything they could to ensure they were as comfortable as possible.

"We just need to be flexible and adaptable and make sure that we offer them the support that they need," he said. "Make sure they've got the essentials like internet so they can get in contact with family and keep that connection going.

"Obviously I've just moved to PNG and I've done so without friends or family, so I understand the challenges that that can be, but there are ways of making that work and at this stage hopefully it's only for seven days until we get more detail of what it's going to look like going forward."

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