Triple-header in Lae this weekend ahead of two-week PNG NSL break

Clubs will head to a small recess in football action for two weeks after this coming Saturday’s action in the Papua New Guinea National Soccer League, which will see three matches in Lae and two in Port Moresby.

The two-week break is designed so that Hekari United and Lae City can take part in the Group Stages of the OFC Champions League, of which six games, from Hekari’s Group A, will be played in Port Moresby on 16th, 19th and 22nd of February.

This weekend, then, is the last chance for the sides to flex their muscles before either a three-week break, in most cases, or for Hekari and Lae, before a big continental test.

Both Hekari and Lae will be playing in Lae this weekend, with Hekari making the journey north and Lae returning home after last week’s late triumph over FC Bougainville in the capital. The last time Lae played at home was two weeks ago, when they suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at the hands of new boys Vitiaz United, while Hekari were last in Lae on 18th January, where they defeated Morobe Wawens 3-0.

Lae, who have not been looking their supreme selves in the last couple of weeks, will be hoping for a slightly easier ride this week against Star Mountain, whose sole victory of the season came last weekend thanks to a Wawens forfeiture, and who currently sit 9th. There is no news about captain Raymond Gunemba, who appeared to push the referee after the defeat against Vitiaz two weeks ago, and his availability, while imports Gustine Icaza and Abdias Aguirre are thought to be settling in a little slower than anticipated. That said, City will probably have enough to overcome Star Mountain, especially at home. The game kicks off at 1pm.

Raymond Gunemba post-match last Saturday in Port Moresby. Photo: PNGFA

Hekari will take on Morobe United at 3pm in what could be a trickier game than it looks on paper. Morobe United sit 8th with just one win so far, but seem to have been playing a higher standard of football since long-time coach Jack Jonathan was replaced by Samson Steven after the second week of action. Under Jonathan, the side lost both of their opening matches, but with Steven at the helm, they have drawn two, won one and lost one – the defeat coming against champions Lae. Morobe were also semi-finalists in last year’s competition. With home advantage, and with Hekari already focused on the OFC action in the coming days, could Morobe United spring a surprise?

The early kick-off in Lae this weekend is Morobe Wawens against Tusbab Stallions, at 11am. Both sides are reeling after last weekend, with Wawens’ forfeiture and Stallions’ toothless defeat to Vitiaz being their second defeat in two. Both sides will be itching to bounce back, but Stallions should be favourite, given that their three defeats so far this season have all come against the three teams ahead of them in the table. Wawens, despite good wins over Morobe United and FC Bougainville, have looked poor defensively, having shipped five and three goals against Lae and Hekari respectively, and will need to tighten up if they’re to contain the league’s top goalscorer, Stahl Gubag.

In Port Moresby, the 1pm kick-off sees Gulf Komara host Vitiaz United, in what is essentially a home fixture for both sides. Vitiaz will see a chance to extend their excellent form against Komara, who are currently bottom of the table on four points, but the third-placed side will not be underestimating their opponents. After also changing their coach ahead of Round 5, new Komara coach Steven Mune, who replaced legendary PNG goalkeeper David Aua at the helm, will be pleased with a win and a draw from his first two matches, but will be concerned at his side’s lack of goals – with just five, they have scored the least in the competition so far. However, striker Jordan Kaven, who has scored two in his last two, could be a danger to the Vitiaz defence. But with Vitiaz boasting three players on three goals for the season – Eliud Fugre, Russell Nirik and Joel Tiampo – the newcomers’ firepower could be too hot for the Komara defence to handle as well.

Gulf Komara’s Donovan Murray (#5) clears the ball during their 2-1 victory over Star Mountain two weeks ago. Photo: PNGFA

At 3pm in Port Moresby, FC Bougainville will host FC Kutubu from the Highlands. Kutubu have only visited Port Moresby once so far this season, securing a huge 4-2 victory over Star Mountain on 18th January, so they have every reason to feel confident ahead of their second visit. Veterans Andrew Apo, who has four goals so far, and Samuel Kini, will be key to Kutubu’s success. Meanwhile, after last week’s valiant defeat to Lae City, Bougainville will be hoping to pick up only their third win of season. Despite four defeats, they are the only side to have picked up a win against red-hot Vitiaz United so far, so if everyone is at their best, they could well win this at a canter. Much is being made of Basil Jofari’s performances in the middle of the pitch, while young winger Jonathan Allen has three goals to his name so far.

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