INTERCHANGE ace Matthew Curtis was a hero, scoring his second try in extra-time to clinch Isis Devils a great escape 30-26 victory over a heroic Easts Magpies in extra-time in the Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade Premiership preliminary final at Salter Oval last Saturday night.
Isis will now target their maiden Bundaberg blue riband title this Sunday against minor premiers and defending champions Wests Panthers, while Easts will ponder what may have been after their run of nine straight wins had ended at the hands of Wests in the major semi-final a week earlier.
Despite the loss of their two star Samoans in international winger Tanielu Pasene and Telefoni Iakopo, who were forced to return home earlier in the week after their visas had expired, the Devils rallied and they put their stamp on the game in the first half, leading 16-6 at oranges.
But just as they had done throughout the second half ofthe season, the Magpies refused to surrender and they very deep and looked grand final bound when they led 26-20 with two minutes remaining.
However, Easts were penalised for time wastage, then were marched 10m for back chat, and Isis made them pay with club junior product uncompromising front rower Royce Blair powering over and Robert O'Donnell adding the extras to level the scores in the dying seconds.
Sent into two 10 minute halves of extra-time, the Devils struck first with former Central Zone representative gun Curtis, who has been consigned to a major impact role off the bench after coming back from a string of serious injuries, breaking the dead-lock.
Easts again tried very hard to reply, but Isis had come too far to let it slip again and they defended for their lives and held on to the delight of their legions of supporters and the despair of the black and white army, although the Magpies felt robbed after having a try denied in the last minute.
The Devils other tries were scored by three more young club junior products, powerhouse winger Zac Dann, who only recently returned from a six-month lay-off following early season knee surgery, perennial game breaker centre Kurt Thompson, who spent a couple of years with Melbourne Storm after finishing school before returning home, and halfback Tim Cole, who has been an unsung hero behind their quest for glory and is arguably the most improved player in the District.
High-class halfback Kyle Laybutt bagged a double for Easts but it was not quite enough for them.
Long serving Isis captain/coach and pocket dynamo playmaker Simon Ricciardi, who is Childers born and bred and whose father Tony is a former Isis Shire Council and more recently Bundaberg Regional Council Deputy Mayor and is still a Bundaberg Regional Councillor and Bundaberg Rugby League Patron, will now strive for an historic premiership with his beloved Devils in his last game before hanging up his playing boots.
He is the only survivor from Isis’ only previous BRL A Grade grand final appearance nine years ago when they were beaten 20-16.
They will certainly have a major advantage in match fitness, having come from fourth position previously with wins over Wallaroos in the elimination final and Brothers in the minor semi-final, while as minor premiers and qualifying final victors, Wests will go into the battle for season supremacy with just one game under their belts in the last five weeks.
The Panthers prevailed 12-6 in heavy rain when the two sides last met in the last round of fixtures on 16th August, after having prevailed42-34 when they first met in this campaign back on 24th May but the Devils turned it on to triumph 40-26 in their other meeting in 2014 on 27th July.
Isis will have all of Childers and District behind them in their quest for the Holy Grail, with the match to be broadcast live throughout Queensland on ABC Radio.
Wests have reigned supreme the past two times they have reached this stage, blowing Brothers away 30-12 12 months ago after defeating Across The Waves in their previous appearance in 2006.
There was a major upset in Reserve Grade with minor premiers Hervey Bay Seagulls edged out 14-10 by Maryborough Brothers, who had scraped into the finals in fifth position.
In under-18, Brothers had not beaten Waves all year but the Tigers could scrape together a bare 13 players for the game and they paid the price, losing 26-22, but the Brethren will be rank underdogs in the decider against the all-conquering Magpies, who will have their eight A Grade players fresh and hungry to salvage something from their season after their top grade disappointment.
Brothers kept their hopes of four straight women's premierships alive with a 48-10 victory over a 10-person Cherbourg, with Queensland open representative fullback Kady Tinker cutting loose with a hat-trick of tries.
Isis 30 (Matthew Curtis 2, Zac Dann, Kurt Thompson, Tim Cole, Royce Blair tries; Robert O'Donnell 3 goals) d Easts 26 (Kyle Laybutt 2, Baidon Cooper, Jesse Marschke tries; Hayden Herbert 5 goals).