PNG Kumuls claim Pacific Bowl against Fiji

Photo: NRL

The PNG Kumuls delighted their home crowd and turned around their fortunes following a poor performance last week to claim the inaugural Pacific Bowl with a 32-12 win against Fiji.

Embarrassed last Sunday by the Bati in their 43-16 loss, the Kumuls came out with a new intensity in the final which showed in their determined defence.

While the opening quarter of the match was a scrappy affair with both sides making errors, the Kumuls were able to capitalise on the strong breeze at their backs to post a huge 26-0 lead at the halftime break.

Their first try came through livewire hooker Edwin Ipape who put in the type of performance fans were hoping to see from him all tournament after he was kept quiet last weekend.

This week, he scored a try, made nine runs for 102 metres with seven tackle breaks and also had a try assist in a player of the match performance, while Liam Horne and Judah Rimbu also impressed off the bench.

The next two tries were almost carbon copies down PNG’s left-hand side, with centre Zac Laybutt running the decoy for fullback Alex Johnston to find winger Robert Derby to cross for a double.

In the closing stages of the first half, Laybutt was again helping to set up his teammates again, busting through tackles and making a break downfield before finding Johnston back on his inside. Rhyse Martin kicked four from four successful conversions in the first half, as well as a penalty goal, to help his side to an imposing 26-0 lead. 

The Bati had their chance to turn the tide in the second half, with Waqa Blake crossing for the first try after the break, but the left plenty of chances go begging, including Maika Sivo losing the ball over the line in what proved to be a key moment in the match.

The Bati did have some key performers who tried to turn the game in their favour including Jahream Bula who proved as elusive as ever in attack, setting up a try with an evasive run down field, and Blake who crossed for two tries; but their discipline let them down, with 11 penalties conceded.

The Kumuls defence – which was criticised last week – held strong, especially on their own goal line to help them claim the trophy. 

Match Snapshot

– The Kumuls were able to turn around their biggest loss against the Bati last weekend to claim the inaugural Pacific Bowl trophy.

– Kumuls forward Rhyse Martin became the most capped Kumul of all time, with his 17 appearances eclipsing the 16 international appearances for the Kumuls by Paul Aiton and John Wilshere, who are members of the current PNG coaching staff, and the legendary Stanley Gene.

– Before this match, the Bati were undefeated in this year’s Pacific Championships.

– Prior to this game, Maika Sivo had scored nine tries in nine Test matches, including seven in his past five Tests, but was denied a try in this match after losing the ball over the line following pressure from Roderick Tai.

– Kumuls hooker Edwin Ipape was put on report midway through the first half for a Dangerous Tackle.

– Both teams had players spend time in the sin bin with Epel Kapinias (Kumuls) and Taane Milne (Bati) sent for 10. 

Play of the Game 

After running the decoy to help set up his winger Robert Derby to score a double, Kumuls centre Zac Laybutt was helping to set up his teammates again in the closing stages of the first half, busting through tackles and making a break downfield before finding Alex Johnston back on his inside who went over next to the posts to score.

What They Said 

“We let them get away with a lot of things in the first half, we didn’t control the ruck properly. The number nine started playing football, in saying that as a coach, you have got to prepare … They scored a lot of points from our mistakes; once we controlled the ball a little bit in the second half, we started playing footy, but then we kept going back to those same mistakes from the first half.

“Credit to the boys, to be honest with you, we’ve got a lot of young kids and I said to them in the dressing room ‘keep your head up’; when I came here, I was looking at 2026, so it’s building … I can’t thank Tui (Kamikamica) enough for being a great leader for us for this tournament, so for us as a group, it’s a good learning process what happened … so we’re going to take the positive, we’re going to drop the negative and move forward from here.” – Fiji Bati coach Wise Kativerata

“I’m thrilled, the boys were terrific today. Obviously, the first half of defending our line early on (they) did a good job, turning them away and then attacked really well, scored some really good tries. It was terrific first half and then to start the second half, concede one straight away and we had to hang in there for large parts of that second half and obviously, Fiji in particular last week showed what they’re capable of, so we were under a lot of pressure there and kept turning them away and came away with a good win. So, I’m thrilled for everyone, staff the players and obviously the whole country, as you said, it’s great to win the Pacific Bowl.

“I just think it’s great that we’re playing in the national rugby league and got guys like Kyle (Laybutt) next to me who’s an outstanding player, so they deserve some better opportunities and I hope they get them. I really enjoyed the whole campaign, and we were really disappointed last week and bounced back exactly how we needed to today.” – PNG Kumuls coach Justin Holbrook

What’s Next

The Pacific Championships will be staged again in 2024, after the NRL and NRLW Premiership seasons, and will include men’s and women’s teams from Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Cook Islands.