I’ve always followed the Queensland Cup rugby league – cheap entry, cheap beer, kids on the field at half time, grass hill, memories of childhood, what’s not to love?
I check the scores each week, go to a handful of games each year at Dolphin Oval, and I maintain it is an underrated competition.
The last few seasons my interest has been stoked by the arrival of a new team in the competition – the Papua New Guinea Hunters.
I have a substantial soft spot for the Hunters. In fact you could call me a Hunters groupie, as I have graced most of their southeast Queensland appearances in the past two seasons, including their inaugural Queensland Cup game in 2014 at Dolphin Oval.
Their style of rugby league excites – no offload is impossible, no opportunity for punishing defence is missed, no place on the field is forbidden to start a try from. Most of all, the passion they bring is infectious and addictive, from the warm-up to the final siren.
I’ve dragged a few league fans to Hunters games over the past two seasons, and all have been caught up in it and converted. They seem to be popular everywhere they go, with a Hunters game usually a good chance for a surge in fan numbers at the ground – occasionally they even outnumber home fans.
Of course nowhere are they more popular than in their home country, well known to be the only country where rugby league is the national sport. The only sell-out game of last weekend’s round came in Port Moresby, and the number at the game was only beaten by the Broncos and Cowboys. The previous visit to Port Moresby saw a crowd higher than every NRL game of that round.
For those out of the loop, the Papua New Guinea Hunters entered the Queensland Cup last year, and it is the second appearance of a team from Papua New Guinea in Queensland’s top comp, after the Port Moresby Vipers played in 1996 and 1997.
The Hunters’ first season provided plenty of the qualities that have seen them become one of the top clubs in this year’s competition, but a little bit of inexperience and a bad mid-season run saw them miss the finals by one spot.
It looked like second-season syndrome in 2015 as the Hunters lost three of their first six games, but Round 6 was the last loss for the PNG side, who have now been unbeaten since April – a draw with Redcliffe the only minor hiccup.
This run has included all the style they are loved for, but they have also found that toughness to get home in a number of close games, and †hey are fast becoming the perfect package in the Queensland Cup.
They are now guaranteed a top-two spot and will play Townsville in the first week of the finals (a team they have beaten twice this year).
So it is time to jump on board the Papua New Guinea Hunters bandwagon before the word gets out and Hunters become big time news, and to do so you should get to know a few of the names that people will be talking about soon.
The halves – Israel Eliab and Ase Boas – are top class and wouldn’t look out of place in the NRL.
Fullback Stargroth Amean can sniff out a try from anywhere. A great example of this was last year at Davies Park where a spilled bomb by his winger happened to bounce sideways and into the arms of an already steaming Amean, who went from in-goal to in-goal to score an unbelievable try.
Not quite as flashy, but big and tough are prop Esau Siune, and centre Thompson Teteh. There’s also the underrated goal kicking from the other centre, Noel Zemming, who has got the Hunters out of some close games this season.
You could write a story for all the Hunters, but there’s one man that seems to capture the imagination like no other, Willie Minoga. The man voted fan’s favourite from last year has continued the brand of football that delighted in 2014, and there is always the anticipation of No. 16 coming onto the field for the first time each game. His barnstorming runs and ferocious defence have got the fans excited this year, and he scores tries more often than a replacement forward is usually warranted to do so.
In fear this love-in may be a poisoned chalice for the Hunters, I’ve waited until the top two position was safe to share my thoughts. If this season does end in a grand final appearance at Suncorp Stadium on September 27, any rugby league fan close enough to Brisbane will be doing themselves a disservice by not making the effort to attend.
If the swelling of fans and noise at Hunters away games for the regular season in Brisbane is any indication, this will be the rugby league experience of 2015. Keep the date free and spread the word.
For others, keep an eye for the replays on Fox Sports during the week.
But get on board now, before they are State Champions on NRL grand final day.