DESPITE fielding just six players from their triumphant 2013 grand final team, Western Suburbs Panthers kicked off their Bundaberg A Grade title defence with a first-round win at Salter Oval on Saturday night, defeating last year’s wooden spooners Wallaroos 32-18.

Hervey Bay Seagulls were the biggest winners on the day, outclassing perennial battlers Waves Tigers 52-10, while Easts Magpies snatched a last-gasp 26-22 victory over Isis Devils from the jaws of defeat.

The Devils are the only Bundaberg A grade side to retain the same coach as last year, with club stalwart and pocket dynamo hooker Simon Ricciardi again at the helm.

Former club champion Nathan Tanner has returned to top job at the Panthers, with the Kuskey father-son co-coach pairing of Tracey and Brent, who was also their domineering captain, joining Gin Gin Hawks in the Northern Districts Rugby League this season and taking a string of stars with them.

Danny Holmes has taken charge at Wallaroos, with Wayne Bellamy stepping up to the plate at the Seagulls, Michael Murray picking up the tabs from former Brisbane Broncos, Penrith Panthers and English Superleague star Sid Domic at the Tigers, long-time club junior coaching guru Alan Herbert elevated to the Magpies’ A Grade position, and at Brothers, who had the first round bye, Shaun Hobson, who was assistant to Dean Akers last year, moving into the hot seat.

Wests and Ross were locked together at 6-all but the Panthers snuck ahead with a try to journeyman centre Jesse Tass late in the first half, and they powered on from there with new captain Josh Tanner leading from the front at lock, hooker Joel Fagan giving typically polished service, flashy halfback Bevan Page always a threat and seasoned centre Waylon Eggmolesse grabbing a try in a fine all-round display in his return to his junior club after a long stint out of town and with other local clubs.

The Seagulls were always in control against the toothless Tigers, leading 26-0 at the break and going right on with the job, with Prodigal Son second rower Tom Quill in his return after a one-year sojourn with Brothers, and winger Kajeel Crawford each notching doubles.

Hervey Bay also welcomed back mercurial fullback Clinton Horne after a one-year absence, but powerhouse front rower Michael Robinson, who was also among the tries, was one of their best, along with the workaholic Quill and Horne’s younger brother Terry in the centres.

The Devils, who have recruited a large number of Samoan players and have welcomed back club junior products Kurt and Jake Thompson and also made some other key signings in the likes of Panthers premiership player Trent Broadhurst and young guns Taylar Barritt and Alusa Nasio, led 22-20 in the 79th minute, but Akers’ son John capped a memorable club debut when he scored a great winger’s try in the corner, then converted to put the icing on the cake after the Devils had led 12-4 at oranges.

For Easts, former club junior champion Kurtis Booth, who returned after a five-year break last season, playing mainly Reserve Grade and on the wing in A Grade, relished his move back into the thick of things at five-eighth and he had a great game, along with star signing second rower Rhys Neil.

Brothers, who have been grand finalists for the past six years, winning it four times, will start their campaign this Saturday against the high-flying Seagulls.

Round 1 Results

Hervey Bay Seagulls 52 (Kajeel Crawford 2, Tom Quill 2, Terry Horne, Adam Robinson, Michael Robinson, Tyson Woodman, Anthony Lindeberg, Chris Wicks tries; Clinton Horne 5, Terry Horne goals) d Waves Tigers 10 (Nathan Jones, Russell Wood tries; Wesley Soli goal).

Wests 32 (Hayden Smith, Waylon Eggmolesse, Jesse Tass, Blain Martin, James Prichard, Joshua Tanner tries; Bevan Page 3, Joshua Tanner goals) d Wallaroos 14 (Gibson Gela, Josh Crowley, Mark Berkery tries; Roderique Gela goal).

Easts 26 (John Akers, Kristian Colasimone, Rhys Neil, Nick Tanner, Robert Hughes tries; Hughes 2, Akers goals) d Isis 22 (Aaron Ratcliffe, Isitolo Poleka, Royce Blair, Telefoni Iakopo, Gabriel Little tries; Taylar Barritt goal).