The 2014 Digicel Cup decider will pit two evenly-matched sides that have been the best and most consistent over the 20-week competition.
The Gurias made the final after over-powering a fatigued Enga Mioks in Kokopo on August 17, while the Kemele Construction-sponsored Wigmen, who are making their first grand final appearance since entering the competition last year, upset title favourites, the Lae Snax Tigers, 22-20 in the semi-final in Lae on the same day.
The coaching match-up has two men who took over the reins of their franchises from incumbents at different parts of the season and for different reasons.
Wigmen’s Andrew Andiki has filled in admirably for head coach Stanley Hondina, whose work commitments saw him posted to Sydney at the start of the season, while George ToBata’s rise to the top job in the Gurias camp came after former coach Oscar Tonga was sacked mid-way through the season.
Both sides, who finished two (Gurias) and three (Wigmen) after the regular season, have a balance of experienced and young talent to call on ensuring a close match.
The Wigmen have a core group of veterans with international and premiership-winning experience in George Moni, Charlie Wabo and Joseph Omai. These three have won inter-city premierships with the Mendi Muruks and have all representeted the country. They will be complemented by experienced campaigners prop Samuel Sok and converted backrower Felix Tangue while boom youngsters William Mone five-eighth, Weza Tenza at hooker and prop Stanton Albert have shown throughout the season that they belong at this level.
The Gurias have their own stars in Kumul World Cup players Ase Boas, Franchis Paniu and captain Travis Waninara. The East New Briton’s young brigade is just as impressive with dummy-half Quinton Ragi and Jack Marcus some of the stand-outs for the New Islands side.
PNG Hunters coach and former Gurias mentor Michael Marum said the final was too close to call but he gave his old team a good chance to win in Lae. “It’s a tough game to pick. They’re both very good sides and have shown over the season that they deserve to be in the final,” Marum said.
“It’ll be tough, that’s for sure. The Wigmen, I think, have the edge in experience, with players like Charlie Wabo, George Moni and Joseph Omai to call on but I know the Gurias have so much talent and their systems have been strong this year. I think, whoever controls the ball better will win this one, but either way, it is going to be a tough one (game).”
The semi-professional competition into its 25th year has seen the Gurias rack up five titles with their first one in 2001, when the Gurias, captained by Marum beat the Goroka Lahanis 18-2. The final kicks off at 3pm on Sunday with a crowd of at least 10,000 expected.