Papua New Guinea signalled their intentions to win the Oceania Cup on home soil in Port Moresby with an impressive opening 78-3 victory over Vanuatu, scoring 13 tries at the Lloyd Robson Oval on Tuesday.
The Pukpuks will face a sterner challenge in the next round on Thursday when they face the Solomon Islands, who defied a size deficiency to beat the higher ranked Niue 22-19 in the tournament’s opening match.
Papua New Guinea were instantly on the offensive, second row Gabriel Byama seeming to carry three or four defenders over the line with him to score in the first minute. Number 8 George Oki burst through the Vanuatu defence to double the Pukpuks lead in the sixth minute.
Oki tore through the defence with another strong surge from a ruck on the halfway line before offloading to his classy backs to allow lively scrum half Kumalau Auru to dive over between the posts as Papua New Guinea were scoring at the rate of a point a minute.
Byama scored his second try in much the same fashion as his first, dragging the Vanuatu defenders over the line again. A rare foray in to the PNG half nearly paid off for Vanuatu, but instead it was the Pukpuks who scored again through wing Andrew Samson to lead 30-0 at half-time.
Vanuatu came out after the break with some vigour, pinning the Pukpuks in their 22 with some probing runs and were unlucky to only come away with only three points through a penalty by fly half Gibson Joe.
That score merely kick-started the hosts with centre Emmanual Auru slicing through the midfield to feed Wesley Rooney for a try in the corner. The floodgates soon opened with Auru completing his hat-trick amid tries for powerhouse Oki, centre Frank Gabi, flanker Leme Tole and replacements Chris Kakah and Aaron Miai to ultimately knock the wind out of the Tuskers’ sails.
Solomon Islands defy size disadvantage
While Vanuatu had no answer to the pace and power of the Pukpuks, the opening match between Niue and Solomon Islands under the searing Port Moresby sun was a far closer affair, despite Niue having a clear weight advantage over their opponents.
The Solomon Islands seemed oblivious to this disadvantage as they lined up for the anthems and were equal to the task as the Niue forwards attempted to pummel them into submission, showing great tenacity in cutting down their opponents at every chance in the opening minutes.
Sustained pressure though did prove too much to withstand when Niue fly half Danny Atamu slipped through the Solomons’ centres to score a 12th minute try. The conversion was unsuccessful, but Niue attempted to continue their onslaught through the middle with some bruising runs.
However, to their credit, the Solomon Islanders hung on to weather the Niue storm, stringing together some probing runs of their own on the flanks to frustrate a team who seemed to be struggling with the scorching heat.
In the 20th minute, having missed a penalty attempt, the Solomon Islands drew level when captain Corey Chapman burrowed through the defence close to the line. Man of the match, second row Illisoni Delaiverata, touched down nine minutes later to send the Solomon Islands in leading 10-5.
Both teams came out firing in the second half with the Solomon Islanders seemingly the more conditioned and getting their reward when wing Patrick Marie touched down just before the hour mark.
Niue kept their hopes alive when replacement Manoa Lito touched down, but Delaiverata made certain of victory when he raced up field, eluding a number of Niue defenders and sold a dummy. Niue did have the final say with Lito’s second try right on full-time, but it was the Solomon Islands left celebrating.