Papua New Guinea took advantage of the many changes Scotland made throughout the game and scored two late tries to turn an entertaining and close encounter into an apparently comfortable victory. It was anything but.
It was a rare chance to see international rugby league on Post Office Road, with the exotic Kumuls brightening up a dull but very mild afternoon. Led by Aussie league legend Mal Meninga and former Wigan half-back Adrian Lam, PNG looked like they will give France – shocked last night by the USA – and Samoa a run for their money behind Group B favourites New Zealand.
Scotland got off to the perfect start: PNG sent the kick off out of the in-goal on the full and from the resultant penalty, Scotland built through Oli Wilkes before Danny Brough’s cut-out pass sent Brett Carter sliding over on the right within seconds of the game commencing. Brough strangely so miskicked the conversion attempt that it didn’t even reach the posts.
The Kumuls bounced back on seven minutes when Enoch Maki took Paul Aiton’s short pass and spun over the line from close range. PNG then had the better of field position and matched Scotland for set completion during a raft of Bravehearts substitutions. But Scotland regained the lead when Brough’s speculative jabbed cross-field kick on the last was completely missed by Sheffield centre Menzie Yere, enabling Ben Hellewell, on his home ground, to stroll over. Brough kicked the goal for a 10-6 lead on 22 minutes.
Brough showed a rare glimpse of fallibility when he fumbled a simple pass following a fine break by Alex Hurst and there were ironic cheers when his next kick went straight to a man in yellow and red. Minutes later Josiah Abavu took a suspiciously-forward-looking pass and raced through the broken field to kick through superbly for Sydney Roosters’ youngster Nene Macdonald to touch down.
Brough was replaced by Workington youngster Callum Phillips after 34 minutes in a pre-arranged move, and Luke Douglas, who only arrived in the country on Thursday from Australia, played 17 first half minutes as McCormack got 20 of his players on the pitch before the break. Seconds before the bell, Whitehaven’s Jessie Joe Nandye – aka Parker – broke through three tacklers to feed Wellington Albert by the posts. Incredibly, Mead missed the kick, leaving the Kumuls 16-10 up.
PNG repeated the feat within a minute of the restart, a kick through bouncing off Josh Barlow’s chest, Nandye reacted superbly to pick up and send Richard Kambo racing over the line. Mead struck the kick conversion again.
Scotland missed Brough badly in the second half, with a shadow half-back pairing of Danny Addy and Callum Phillips, struggled to get any cohesion. By 52 minutes, all subs had been used by both sides, including Kane Linnett making his Scotland debut and Andrew Henderson extending his record appearances to 21. They could do nothing when Meads threw a splendid dummy and wandered under the posts to the delight of an appreciative crowd. His conversion made it 26-10.
Danny Addy then capped a promising debut with a try – thanks to a run by Irvine-born Matt Russell – and a goal to reduce the deficit to ten points on the hour mark. Both sides started to throw the ball around as the sun came out. And it was Scotland who scored next, Russell flying a long pass out to Alex Hurst to score on the right flank. Addy missed the conversion attempt.
PNG responded positively, former Hunslet star Charlie Wabo leading the charge and tiny hooker Roger Laka snatching a loose ball and squirming out of Hellewell’s grasp to score. Meads’ kick hit the post.
Five minutes from time, Addy’s pass was intercepted by Macdonald, who raced 80 metres and evaded the chasing David Scott’s desperate attempted ankle-tap to make certain of victory. The crowd were given something to savour at the death when Abavu broke down the left touchline and chipped over the Scotland winger, caught the ball and went over in fine style.
1 Matt Russell (Gold Coast Titans)
3 Brett Carter (Workington Town)
4 Alex Hurst (London Broncos)
11 Ben Hellewell (Featherstone Rovers)
5 David Scott (Featherstone Rovers)
6 Danny Brough (c, Huddersfield Giants)
2 Danny Addy (Bradford Bulls)
15 Adam Walker (Hull KR)
14 Ben Fisher (London Broncos)
10 Oliver Wilkes (Wakefield Trinity)
12 Dale Ferguson (Bradford Bulls)
20 Brett Phillips (Workington Town)
13 Ben Kavanagh (Widnes Vikings)
Subs (all used):
9 Ian Henderson (Catalans Dragons)
19 Sam Barlow (Halifax)
16 Alex Szostak (Sheffield Eagles)
17 Callum Phillips (Workington Town)
18 Kane Linnett (North Queensland Cowboys)
21 Josh Barlow (Swinton)
22 Luke Douglas (Gold Coast Titans)
23 Mitchell Stringer (Sheffield Eagles)
24 Andrew Henderson (Sheffield Eagles)
Tries: Carter (1), Hellewell (22), Addy (59), Hurst (65).
Goals: Brough 1/2, Addy 1/2.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
1 David Mead (Gold Coast Titans)
2 Josiah Abavu (Port Moresby Vipers)
3 Menzie Yere (Sheffield Eagles)
5 Francis Paniu (Rabaul Gurias)
22 Bosam Nene McDonald (Sydney Roosters)
6 Ray Thompson (North Queensland Cowboys)
18 Roger Laka (Enga Mioks)
8 Mark Mexico (Lae Tigers)
9 Paul Aiton (Wakefield Trinity Wildcats)
10 Enoch Maki (Mendi Muruks)
11 Dion Aiye (Rabaul Gurias)
12 Jason Chan (Huddersfield Giants)
13 Neville Costigan (c, Newcastle Knights)
Subs (all used):
14 Richard Kambo (Port Moresby Vipers)
15 Jessie Joe Nandye (Whitehaven)
16 Larsen Marabe (Orange CYMS)
17 Charlie Wabo (Mendi Muruks)
19 Jason Tali (Mount Hagen Eagles)
20 Joe Bruno (Rabaul Gurias)
21 Sebastien Pandia (Port Moresby Vipers)
23 Wellington Albert (Lae Tigers)
Tries: Maki (7), Macdonald (29, 75), Albert (39), Kambo (41), Meads (56), Laka (68), Abavu (78).
Goals: Mead 3/6; Laka 0/2.
Referee: Robert Hicks (England)