A second half hat-trick by front-rower Junior Rop underpinned the PNG Hunters’ strong 26-12 win over the Kaiviti Silktails to claim the inaugural Melanesian Bowl at Fiji’s Lawaqa Park in Sigatoka on Saturday.
The Silktails led 12-4 at halftime but Rop’s take-no-prisoners running style helped the PNG team pile on 22 unanswered points in the second term.
His tries in the 56th, 59th and 67th minutes punched holes in the Silktails defence that they weren’t able to mend.
The match was heavy-going for both sides with a water-logged pitch from several days of rain. The second half started in a downpour, which lasted 15 minutes.
When Hunters winger Siki Konden scored his side’s first points in the 15th minute he created quite a spray of water near the corner post to underline the tough conditions.
The home side were on top early, scoring two tries in the opening half, where possession was at a premium. The slippery ball caused a several handling errors.
The Silktails’ second try to winger Tomasi Seru came off a Hunters mistake when Robert Nauci made a 50-metre break upfield from a loose PNG carry. The ensuing play had the Silktails spin the ball across the backline to Seru.
The Fijians’ opening try was quick-thinking by hooker Naisa Toko close to Hunters line. He caught the markers offside and ran straight at them to score near the posts.
In the second half, three straight penalties gave the Silktails some good field position.
But Hunters prop Epel Kapinias made a barging run to lift his side. He was held up over the line but his front row partner in Rop took a leaf out of his book and got the Hunters back in the game in the space of three minutes.
The conversion of his second try by Jamie Mavako put the PNG side in the lead for the first time (14-12) after 60 minutes.
Rop drove low and hard in the 67th minute to get his hat-trick as the Silktails appeared fatigued. Two Silktails players had to leave the field with cramp but the Hunters kept powering on.
Winger Brandon Nima scored their fifth try in the final minutes, off a sublime flick pass from Julius Yakopa.
Coach Wes Naiqama will want to stiffen up the Silktails try-line defence before their opening game of the NSWRL’s Leagues Clubs Australia Ron Massey Cup against Penrith Brothers on 19 March.
PNG Hunters 26 (Junio Rop 3, Siki Konden, Brandon Nima tries; Jamie Mavako 2 goals, Trevor Solu goal) def Kaiviti Silktails 12 (Naisa Toko, Tomasi Seru tries; Seru 2 goals)