REIGNING champions Western Suburbs Panthers powered on in their Bundaberg A Grade title defence with a 58-10 drubbing of perennial lightweights Waves Tigers in their third round showdown at Salter Oval on Saturday night.
Earlier on the program, Brothers finished with a wet sail to also maintain their unbeaten record in two matches this campaign, flying away from Easts Magpies to win 44-14, while at Stafford Park Hervey Bay, the Bay Seagulls overcame the shock resignation of coach Wayne Bellamy a day earlier to also outgun their Fraser Coast rivals Wallaroos 24-12 in a local derby.
The Tigers fielded by far their strongest team probably since their grand final triumph of 2007, with the debuts of six Sydney based Tongan players and a few other recruits, but they were disjointed and the Panthers purred to their third straight impressive victory, racing to a 34-6 lead by the break and never relenting.
New captain and lock Josh Tanner again set the standard for Wests, notching another double, while flashy Torres Strait five-eighth Brendan Magala marked his debut also with a pair of tries, and crafty halfback Bevan Page racked up 22 points with one try and nine goals.
Many had not expected the Panthers to be a major force this year after the defection of premiership winning captain/coach Brent Kuskey and a string of other stars to Gin Gin in the Northern Districts Rugby League, but under the guidance of Tanner's father Nathan, a former long serving club champion player and coach, they have dispelled those myths and at this early stage appear on track for another grand final appearance.
Wests will now have a two-week break with the Easter recess this weekend, then the bye, before taking on Brothers in a grand final return bout on May 3 which could decide the favourites for the flag.
Brothers also have a new coach this season in Shaun Hobson, who guided their women to the premiership last season, and a new look team with just seven members of their grand final side of last September.
On Saturday, the under-strength Magpies threw down the gauntlet to them, pilfering two early tries and leading 14-10 at the oranges and retaining that advantage until midway through the second stanza.
But with Queensland Rangers centre and captain Mat Templeman cutting loose with a double and Prodigal Son wing flier Chris Rose, who has returned home after three seasons with the Panthers, also breaking free with two tries of his own, the Brethren were unstoppable over the last 20 minutes.
Electrifying fullback Shaun Collins, under-18 winger Aidan Dempsey, whose father Jack is the State Member for Bundaberg and who is a former Magpies junior who has returned home after completing his year 12 in Brisbane playing rugby and AFL, and halfback Andrew Cross, a Brothers junior product who has also returned to the club after eight seasons on the Gold Coast, each also chipped in with a four-pointer, but it was their rampaging front rower Brad Jung and star recruit second rower Joel McCrea who really laid the platform.
Meanwhile, on top of Bellamy's bomb-shell on Friday, Hervey Bay were without a number of injured stars for their first home game of the season, and Roos served it up to them and took the lead.
But the Seagulls rallied and finished with a gritty four tries to two tries triumph, with regular centre Terry Horne coming off the bench in his return from injury to clinch a double and his elder brother and captain Clinton slotting four goals in another high-class all-round display at fullback.
Brothers 44 (Chris Rose 2, Mat Templeman 2, Shaun Collins, Aidan Dempsey, Andrew Cross, Joel McCrea tries; Nathan Moore 6 goals) d Easts 14 (Zak Bainbridge, Caleb Gazzard tries; Bainbridge 3 goals).
Wests 58 (Brendan Magala 2, Josh Tanner 2, Kane Chapman, Hayden Smith, Bevan Page, Joel Fagan, James Prichard, Morris Missi tries) d Waves Tigers 10 (Russell Wood, Dominic Tavae tries; Brendon McKeown goal).
Hervey Bay 24 (Terry Horne 2, Bradley Lewis, Adam Robinson tries; Clinton Horne 4 goals) d Wallaroos 12 (Roderique Gela, Josh Crowley tries; Roderique Gela 2 goals).