Lae City Win Early Rivals Clash while Hekari Smash Five Past Tavur

Lae City FC defeated breakaway rivals Lae City Dwellers by four goals to one in a wet clash in Lae earlier today, stamping their authority on the 2021 Papua New Guinea National Soccer League Northern Conference by becoming the only side with two wins from two, while Hekari United once again won by five goals in a 5–0 thrashing of returning side Tavur FC.

Raymond Gunemba (right) battles for the ball against Lae City FC on a rainy afternoon in Lae. Photo: PNGFA

However, there were matters to be settled before arguably the two title favourites took to the field on Saturday in Lae and in Port Moresby. In Lae, Morobe Wawens recovered from their opening-day defeat with a 3–1 victory over Tusbab Stallions. Wawens, who relied heavily on recruits from now-defunct sides, showed some fight and resilience in their narrow defeat to Lae City last weekend, and this proved to be too much for the young Stallions team, who went behind in the first half and showed no real signs of being able to recover.

Wawens, who are now managed by Percy Mataio, opened the scoring through former Morobe United attacker Giwi Simon, before long-time Wawens striker Joshua Panget scored their second to give them a more comfortable lead. Stallions rallied somewhat in the second half, scoring through new recruit Charlie Kamah, but former Bougainville striker Bernard Purari put the game beyond doubt with his second of the season for Wawens late on.

Meanwhile, in Port Moresby, Star Mountain took on Central Dabari in the opening match at the PNG Football Stadium. Star Mountain opened the scoring after a mazy run was finished by Joel Tiampo in the first half, but two second-half goals from Kila Tau and super-sub Karo Iga secured Dabari’s first win since their return to NSL action. Vice-captain and striker Ryan Gerega won the man of the match for the side after his skilful creative play helped to set up Dabari’s two second-half goals.

Central Dabari’s graphic depicting Iga Kala scoring the winner against Star Mountain. Photo: Central Dabari Facebook Page

Then came the big boys – Lae City took on Lae City Dwellers in Lae at the same time as Hekari United lined up against newcomers Tavur FC in Port Moresby, with most eyes fixed upon the huge rival clash between the two Lae-based teams. Would Lae City stamp their authority on their breakaway cousins, or would Peter Gunemba and his new side prove their point with a victory?

It was a strong start for Bob Morris’ Lae City side, with former Tusbab Stallions forward Stahl Gubag scoring a brace before half-time to put Lae City two goals up. With the rain then starting to pour, both sides had to adjust to a rather waterlogged pitch, and it was Dwellers who adjusted first, with none other than Raymond Gunemba pulling a goal back for his father’s side.

But Morris reshuffled and made good use of the attacking options in his squad, punting the ball long for pacy forwards Jibola Afonji and Jonathan Allen to chase, and both attackers scored one each as Lae emerged 4–1 victors over their fierce rivals.

Meanwhile, in Port Moresby, it was less of a competition. Following their defeat last week to Southern Youth, not much was expected of Tavur against eight-time champions Hekari, and it was to prove exactly so as Hekari romped to a 5–0 victory over the returners. It was the veterans who led the line for Hekari this week, with two goals each for Koriak Upaiga and Nigel Dabinyaba – the latter of whom now has four in two games – and a clincher for 35-year-old Michael Foster.

The final two clashes of the week saw Sepik FC and Port Moresby Strikers take part in semi-professional competition for the first time this season, after both having byes on the opening weekend. However, neither side got off to a winning start, with Sepik losing 5–0 to Morobe United, who picked up their first victory of the season, and Port Moresby Strikers suffered a 2–1 defeat to Gulf Komara, who have picked up where they left off last season with two wins in their opening two games.

Sepik FC lined up in the PNG NSL for the first time in 12 years on Saturday. Photo: Sepik FC Facebook Group

Sepik kept Morobe United at bay for the majority of the first half, with just a solitary goal from central midfielder Henry Ronny separating the two sides on half time, but Morobe piled on the pressure in the second half, scoring four more goals through Russell Nirik, former Hekari midfielder Vincent Tai, and a brace from Nalau Peter.

Meanwhile, all three goals between Gulf Komara and POM Strikers were scored in the first half, with Jordan Kaven hitting his second goal in two games in the 9th minute before Ilagi Geno doubling their advantage in the 25th minute. Riggie Togubai pulled one back for POM Strikers on the brink of half-time, but the returning side were unable to press for an equaliser and opened their campaign with a defeat.

Port Moresby Strikers have recruited from far and wide ahead of the new season, having brought in Gregory Togubai, Ishmael Pole and Patrick Aisa from Hekari United, Mathias Oyabua and Randall Passam from Vitiaz United, Pettyshen Elizah, Riggie Togubai and William Yumb from Star Mountain, and Dinniget Luaine and Oberth Simon from FC Kutubu. The side looks, on paper, fairly strong, but it will surely take time for the players to gel together in the team. They could certainly be expected to get stronger as the season progresses into the latter stages.

So three sides have two wins from two – Lae City lead the way alone in the Northern Conference, while both Hekari United and Gulf Komara have a 100% record going into week 3. It’s shaping up to be an interesting season.

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