The PNG faithful greeted the Panthers in their thousands at the opening of the 15,000 seat National Football Stadium in Port Moresby. The sold out crowd provided a great back drop to the action on the field that saw the Panthers grind out a hard-fought 20-12 victory.
The Panthers started strong after Leilani Latu ran a great line on the left edge to storm over in the 4th minute of play. Jamie Soward converted to see the Panthers lead 6-0.
The Panthers dominated the opening stages but some crucial handling errors gave the Hunters some much needed possession, with the crowd getting into the game every opportunity possible.
Thompson Teteh almost got the Hunters on the board in the 27th minute of the game as he chased a nice grubber through. Fortunately for the Panthers he couldn’t control the put down.
The Panthers had to defend their line once more after Marli Sini dropped the ball cold coming out of his own 10 with another repeat set for the Hunters finally paying dividend in the 36th minute of play. Winger Adex Wera finished off a nice backline play. Halfback Atte Bina couldn’t convert from near the right touch line. The Panthers held a 6-4 lead.
The Panthers earned themselves a final shot at the Hunters line after some strong defence took the Hunters into touch 10 metres out. A beautiful cut out pass by Jamie Soward gave Josh Hall an opportunity in his first game for the Panthers and he didn’t disappoint, touching down just inside the left touchline. A beautiful conversion from Soward saw the Panthers take an eight point lead to the break.
HALF TIME: Panthers 12-4
The Hunters needed to start the second half strong and they did just that. A break up the middle saw Philimone Kimisive touch down to the left of the posts. The conversion was waved away to reduce the Panthers lead to 4.
The Panthers regained their eight point advantage in the 50th minute. A bust by Brent Naden gave the Panthers plenty of room on the right hand side and Tupou Sopoaga delivered a great pass to Malakai Watene-Zelezniak to dive over out wide. Nathan Cleary’s attempted conversion was waved away. The Panthers stretched their lead to 16-8.
The Panthers stretched their lead in the 60th minute when Oliver Clark was able to generate some second phase play. Tyrone May placed a cross field kick to perfection for Malakai Watene-Zelezniak to claim his second of the night. Cleary’s conversion was waved away, with the Panthers leading 20 points to 8.
In the 78th minute the Hunters crossed the line after being the quickest to act on a spilt bomb. The conversion was unsuccessful, ensuring the Panthers would walk away from a hard fought game eight point victors.
FULL TIME: Panthers 20-12
Tries: M Watene-Zelezniak x 2, Latu, J Hall
Conversions: J Soward: 2 from 2, N Cleary: 0 from 2