Kluskey stars as Panthers beat Easts

NEWLY crowned Bundaberg A Grade Player of the Year and captain/coach Brent Kuskey led from the front as Wests Panthers outgunned Easts Magpies 28-18 in the qualifying final at Salter Oval on Sunday.


The Panthers put their stamp on the game by forging a 16-6 half-time advantage, and they never relented against a Magpies side which never stopped trying but in the end, was safely held.


Kuskey at hooker and his elder brother, five-eighth Aaron, pulled the strings on a well executed performance but while neither were among the tries, their younger brother, second rower Ben, picked up one four-pointer.


Brent, who captained Brothers to a hat-trick of premierships last season before returning to his original club, was pleased but warned they would have to improve greatly and cut out their temporary lapses if they are to topple minor premiers Brothers in the qualifying final this Saturday evening.


Meanwhile, Isis Devils, who are the only team to have defeated Brothers in 2013, back in round two on April 6, bowed out with their second loss on successive Sundays to a late charging Hervey Bay Seagulls in the elimination final, going down 34-26.


The Seagulls led 14-6 at the break and while the Devils kept fighting back, Hervey Bay responded each time and they looked home when they led 28-16 with 10 minutes to go.


Isis got back to within two points when rampaging front rower Peter Grant crashed over for his second try in the 74th minute after powerhouse Bay five-eighth, captain and dual try scorer Tyrone Hopgood, who played last year for the Devils and had taken out the BRL Representative Player of the Year gong on Friday night, was sent off on a tripping charge, but Nathan Sullivan's miss of a normally routine conversion proved very costly.


Still the result went right down to the wire before multi-talented young Seagulls fullback Tom Freshwater scooped up the ball from a exquisitely placed chip kick and touched down with two minutes left on the clock, before Kurtis Everett, who took over the kicking duties from Hopgood, stepped up to the plate and added the extras to seal a minor semi-final showdown with the Magpies.


Beaten grand finalists last year, the Seagulls won just one of their first eight games in the new year, but have since gone from strength to strength with seven victories from their last nine outings, including a 48-16 blitz of an admittedly depleted Magpies on July 14.


In Reserve Grade, Easts were also beaten in the qualifying final, going down to Maryborough Brothers 30-10, while Wests edged out Wallaroos 30-28 despite scoring five tries to Roos' six.


But the Magpies outclassed Waves Tigers 32-18 in the under-18 qualifying match with a double to under-16 halfback Hayden Herbert, while Murgon Mustangs knocked out Wests 40-10 with centres Arthur Saltner and Keith Gadd costarring with three and two tries respectively.


Elimination final: Hervey Bay 34 (Tyrone Hopgood 2, Tom Freshwater, Billy Stefaniuk, Brock Eldridge, Jarred Nissen, Darcy Horgan tries; Hopgood 2, Kurtis Everett goals) d Isis 26 (Peter Grant 2, Zac Suter, James Bryant, John Neilley tries; Zac Dann 2, Nathan Sullivan goals).


Qualifying final: Wests 28 (Quentin Olive, Joel Turaga, Josh Tanner, Joel Fagan, Ben Kuskey tries; Josh Tanner 4 goals) d Easts 18 (Dane Richards, Jesse Tass, Danyon Van Mierlo tries; Robert Hughes 2, Matt Tanner goals).