The Ireland vice-captain will start in the back row alongside Ben Spina and Blake Leary in what is expected to be a no-holds-barred hit out against the competition newcomers.
“They’ll throw everything at us, they’ll be so excited and up for the occasion, so we’ll have to be able to match that,” coach Jason Demetriou said. “That’s the important thing, if we can match their physicality and intensity.”
Last week the coach went for youth in the 24-20 win over North Queensland’s under-20s, but with the season opener creeping closer he has gone for the best team available.
First Nation Goannas representatives Davin Crampton and Noel Underwood are in Newcastle for Saturday’s match against the Knights, while halfback Sam Obst has a minor injury and is being rested.
“Other than the Cowboys players who will come back and the guys who are unavailable, that’s our strongest team,” Demetriou said.
Although Sunday’s match is only a trial, it is expected to generate plenty of interest from all quarters of the rugby league community.
The match will be the Hunters’ first and will provide a preview for what to expect in their inaugural ISC season. Demetriou has a good idea what is coming after witnessing PNG’s top club team, Rabaul Gurias, outmuscle the Pride in a 29-22 win last preseason.
“We’re going to have to show some toughness because they can intimidate you and get on top of you,” Demetriou said.
There will be a rivalry off the field too, with Pride chief executive Brock Schaefer tipping the PNG supporters to outnumber their Pride counterparts.
“It’s going to be an amazing night for everyone, and we’re honoured to be PNG’s first opponents,” Schaefer said. “We had a crowd of around 3000 for our home game against the Gurias last year, and we’ll be expecting a similar crowd this time around, if not bigger ... there’s a huge PNG expat community in Cairns.” – Cairns Post