The Tweed Heads Seagulls were welcomed with a one-two from the home side in the opening quarter of play. The Hunters got off to a blistering start posting two converted tries within the first three minutes of the match.
Hunters captain Israel Eliab re-gathered his own chip kick on the last tackle and sent prop Timothy Lomai over for the opening try and seconds after the restart Lomai turned provider sending in Laka for the second try and a 12-0 lead.
Coach Michael Marum made no bones about his game plan that saw play focused on the middle third.
“That is the game plan,” Marum said when asked why the ball was seldom spread to the flanks.
“Every match you go into you must have a plan and that was our plan. Each match is not the same so obviously you have to have a different approach to each game.” Laka was all class keeping the Hunters ahead with well placed kicks all over the park, barking orders to his troops and ensuring Marum’s strategy was followed. It was almost reminiscent to last week’s match with the Jets when the Gulls, through five-eighth Michael Burgess and former North Queensland Cowboys first grade winger, Kalifa Fai Fai Loa drew the visitors and level for a 12-12 score line at halftime.
Blake Anderson added the conversion before heading into the sheds.
The game seesawed in the second half as both teams traded tries. The Gulls came out firing with bulldozing runs by giants Pele Peletelese and Reg Saunders making the home side struggling for possession and on the backfoot in defence.
Burgess and Fai Fai Loa were a continuous threat on attack.
Burgess with his spinning grubbers caused havoc for the Hunters and Fai Fai Loa had the better of his opposite George Benson on a number of occasions.
Both teams exchanged hits up in the middle as a long lull crept into the match and interestingly, referee Robert Gallacher allowed a “water break” for the Gulls after Laka kicked on dead into the Gulls territory. Hunters regained possession soon enough after Wartovo Puara Junior jolted Jamal Forgaty near the line and play continued with Puara scoring from the ruck and Noel Zemming converting. Lawrence Tu’u showed courage providing support for Zemming and lock Dion Aiye who were a handful for the Gulls defence.
The Kalabond crowd played their part, lifting the side in the crucial stage when fatigue was setting in.
A bone-rattler by Aiye on a Tweed Heads runner saw the visitors lose position on their 10-metre line, and the following play saw Willie Minoga barge over for a try. Eliab followed it up with a try of his own while prop Gonzela Urakusie also helped himself to a four pointer.
Zemming kicked a perfect four from four.
The Gulls finished off respectably with a 10 point margin when Matt King dived in on a Burgess spinning grubber as the hooter signaled the end of the match.
Match Summary: PNG Hunters: 36 (T.Lomai, R. Laka, W. Puara Jr, W. Minoga, I. Eliab G. Urakusie tries; R.Laka 2, N. Zemming 4 con) Tweed Heads Seagulls 26 (M. Burgess, K. Fai Fai Loa 2, L Dumas, Matt King tries; B. Anderson, C Nelson con; J Fogarty pen) Half time: 12-12.