THE youthful Easts Magpies proved to any lingering doubters that they are the real deal, notching their ninth straight victory by edging out a much improved Brothers 26-24 in their Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade Premiership qualifying final at Salter Oval on Saturday night.
That was after Isis Devils had overwhelmed Wallaroos 60-8 in the elimination match.
With their nine under-age players fresh after their under-18 team had the weekend off as minor premiers, the Magpies were forced to dig deep and that they did after the Brethren overcame a 16-12 half-time deficit to turn up the heat and take a 24-16 lead 12 minutes into the second stanza with crafty halfback Andrew Cross’s second try and a fourth conversion to Andrew Filo.
With five times Queensland Rangers dynamo and BRL A Grade Representative Player of the Year Mat Templeman inspiring his side, Brothers, who had gone through a horror patch with just two wins from their last seven games leading into the finals, had a couple of other chances to seal the match, but handling errors proved costly.
And Easts weathered the storm, and got back to within two points with a try to 17-year-old lightweight winger Baidon Cooper and a sideline conversion by newly crowned BRL under-18 Player of the Year Hayden Herbert.
Then, they regained the lead with a third try to mercurial teenage halfback Kyle Laybutt with five minutes left on the clock, and from there, they jealously guarded their advantage in the face of everything that Brothers threw at them.
They will now play minor premiers and reigning champions Wests in the major semi-final this Saturday, and they will certainly have an advantage in match fitness as the Panthers have not played for three weeks, although fatigue in a high-pressure finals game could be a factor for Easts as they will also contest the under-18 major semi-final earlier in the afternoon.
Easts captain and tough as teak second rower Rhys Neil praised his team but reserved special praised for Laybutt, 18-year-old hooker Caleb Gazzard, who took out the coveted BRL A Grade Player of the Year gong at their presentation dinner eight days earlier, and Cooper.
Brothers will now lick their wounds for a sudden death minor semi-final showdown with the rampant Devils, aiming to keep their hopes alive for a seventh straight grand final appearance.
Isis were ruthless against Roos, piling on an unanswered 30 points in the first 40 minutes and never relenting with pocket dynamo captain/coach Simon Ricciardi again leading from the front at hooker in an imposing pack in which only lethal lock Robert O’Donnell was the only try scorer in the run-on side.
The damage could have been worse for Roos as O’Donnell converted only six of the 12 tries, but it made no difference for the pride of Childers as their backs had a field day, with powerful winger Zac Dann bagging a hat-trick in just his third game back after having early year knee surgery, and explosive fullback Jake Thompson grabbing a double.
The Devils will be favoured to progress to the preliminary final even though they have won just one of their three clashes with Brothers in 2014.
Easts had extra cause for celebration with their Reserve grade team accounting for Wests 32-18 in their qualifying final despite a double for the Panthers by their BRL A Grade Rookie of the Year award winner and fullback Delroy Tanner.
But it was double disappointment for Wallaroos as they also suffered a 46-6 Reserve grade drubbing by Maryborough Brothers with hooker Chris Alston leading the charge for the winners with a hat trick in the Heritage City duel and halfback Craig Marshall and front rower Nathan Angeles each notching doubles.
Brothers were also beaten in the under-18 qualifying final by Waves 28-20 with centre Connor Jones a match winner for the Tigers with two tries.
Brothers' only joy came in the women's division where their three times defending champions white-washed Cherbourg 40-0 in their qualifying final with halfback Jude Bust starring with two tries.
Easts' only defeat for the day was in the women's eliminator where they were edged out by Wallaroos 18-16 with Roos halfback Sinetta Broome racking up 14 points with two tries and three goals.
A Grade - Qualifying final: Easts 26 (Kyle Laybutt 3, Cody Maughan, Baidon Cooper tries; Hayden Herbert 3 goals) d Brothers 24 (Andrew Cross 2, Nathan Moore, Tien Nguyen tries; Andrew Filo 4 goals). Elimination final: Isis 60 (Zac Dann 3, Jake Thompson 2, Tanielu Pasene, Kurt Thompson, Nathan Sullivan, Robert O'Donnell, Mathew Curtis, Jo Neilley, Gabriel Little tries; Robert O'Donnell 6 goals) d Wallaroos 8 (Damien Otto, Eddie Booth tries).
BRL Awards - Club Champions: Eastern Suburbs Magpies; A Grade Minor Premiers: Western Suburbs Panthers; Rookie of the Year: Delroy Tanner (Wests); Women's Player of the Year: Chelsea Baker (Gladstone Raidettes), Under 18 Player of the Year: Hayden Herbert (Easts); Reserve Grade Player of the Year: Jamie Hanson (Wests); A Grade Player of the Year: Caleb Gazzard (Easts); Women's Rep Player of the Year: Nicole Curtis (Brothers); Under 20 Rep Player of the Year: Cody Faulkner (Waves Tigers); A Grade Rep Player of the Year: Mat Templeman (Brothers); Volunteer of the Year: Terry Lynch (Hervey Bay) and Terry Dodd (Bundaberg)