IN A thrilling rugby league test match the Papua New Guinea Kumuls beat Fiji 24-22 at Parramatta stadium in Sydney last night.
The crowd nearly blew the stands down with their enthusiasm and half the PNG expats in NSW must have been present (including Rose Kranz from whom I expect a full match report later in the day).
The win was the Kumuls' first on foreign soil since beating France 23-20 win in Paris during the 2000 World Cup.
Papua New Guinea, whose side was dominated by players from the PNG Hunters team in the Queensland Cup, got off to a good start when halfback Watson Boas scored in the fifth minute and his brother Ase, Kumuls’ five-eighth, converted.
An Ase Boas penalty goal three minutes later extended the Kumuls lead to 8-0 but Fiji appeared to be gaining control of the match when Sydney Roosters forward Eloni Vunakece crashed over off a Maurice Kennedy inside pass try in the 17th minute.
Five-eighth Sitiveni Moceidreke converted and the landed a 23rd minute penalty goal to level the scores before Qionimacawa put the Bati ahead with his first try in the 30th minute off a kick from the North Sydney playmaker.
Qionimacawa grabbed his second try seven minutes later in almost identical circumstances seven minutes later to enable Fiji to take a 16-8 lead into the halftime break.
In between the two tries, PNG and Gold Coast fullback David Mead produced two try saving tackles, including a brutal one-on-one hit on Bati centre after the Manly star had made a 50 metre break.
Despite being a man short, the Kumuls managed to narrow the margin when Canberra Raiders centre Kato Ottio crossed two minutes after halftime and Boas's second try in the 52nd minute put PNG back in front.
The Kumuls appeared to have secured a win when Titans centre Nene McDonald scored in the 71st minute after a darting dummy half run by hooker Wartove Puara Junior but Fiji were not done and Qionimacawa ensured a thrilling finish when he completed his hat trick in the 75th minute.