IT is game on for the Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade Premiership minor premiership after Past Brothers surrendered their two-point lead on the ladder with a surprise 36-32 loss to two time defending champions Wests Panthers in their round 18 showdown at Salter Oval on Sunday.
Chasing their 14th straight win, the Brethren were ambushed by the hot Panthers, who threw down the gauntlet with three tries to take a 16-0 lead in better than even time and held on despite having human juggernaut centre Joel Turaga sent off one minute before the break.
Hervey Bay Seagulls had joined them at the head of affairs with a 94-0 white-wash of a lame Easts Magpies at their home, Stafford Park on Saturday night.
In the early match at Salter Oval on Sunday, Isis Devils, again without their Queensland Rangers ace Jake Thompson, were joined on 20 points in equal-fourth spot by Wallaroos after being overrun by them 30-20 in a dress rehearsal for their elimination final re-match on 22nd August.
Past Brothers were without a few big guns and in the end, goal kicking was the difference between the two sides, each scoring six tries but flashy halfback Bevan Page getting Wests home with his six conversions to Brothers' Matt Martin's four.
Brothers were off their game from the outset and highly rate recent Panthers recruit from Gladstone Wallabies, hooker Sam Herbert exposed their defence, striking with their first two tries.
His combination with halves Page and George Kepa was also slick, creating great attacking flair, and Brothers, who drew level at 22-all early in the second stanza, were out enthused and outplayed with lightning quick winger Delroy Tanner hitting back immediately with a try to regain the lead for Wests and from there, they again skipped away then jealously guarded their lead to the end.
Wests wrapped up third position but they remain eight points adrift of the new joint-leaders, while Past Brothers retain poll position over Wests with a reduced nett points differential advantage of 540 to 374.
The minor premiership is expected to be decided when Brothers and Hervey Bay meet in a battle Royale at Salter Oval this Sunday.
The Seagulls are then almost guaranteed the four points from the last two rounds as they will face cellar dwellers Waves Tigers before having the bye.
Past Brothers on the other hand have another likely tough duel with sleeping giants Isis before rounding off their regular season against Waves.
Hervey Bay were white-hot against an admittedly poor Easts, with try machine Billy Stefaniuk having another field day on his wing with a familiar hat-trick while equally potent fullback Alex Braun and tough second rower Tyson Woodman each bagged doubles.
The Bay had nine other individual try scorers, while long serving champion halfback Clinton Horne missed out on a four-pointer but racked up 30 points with 15 conversions.
Easts will rally for their clash with Waves this Sunday, with the loser almost certain to finish with the wooden spoon.
Wallaroos however also gained plenty of confidence from their victory against the hot and cold Isis, leading 12-8 at oranges then coming back after the Devils turned up the heat to take an eight-point advantage with 20 minutes left on the clock after rugged front rower Royce Blair forced his way over for his second try.
But the clumsy Devils self-destructed as the pride of Maryborough stormed home with three more brilliant converted tries, including a second to explosive under-18 winger Herbert Tanna.
Isis will pick up the automatic two points from the bye this weekend, but Wallaroos will need to step up another gear when they host the rampant Panthers at Eskdale Park on Saturday night.
Hervey Bay 94 (Billy Stefaniuk 3, Alex Braun 2, Tyson Woodman 2, Steven Brudzinski, Tye Inebrigtsen, Chris Ford, RonaldFisher, Brad Jung, Adam Roderick, Clancy Fallon, Anthony Lindeberg, Amos Pelite tries; Clinton Horne 15 goals) d Easts 0.
Wallaroos 30 (Herbert Tanna 2, Stafford Saltner, Lincoln Willmot, Josh Crowley tries; Tanna 3, Will Willmot 2 goals) d Isis 20 (Royce Blair 2, Zac Dann, Peter Grant tries; Rob O'Donnell 2 goals).
Wests 36 (Sam Herbert 2, Delroy Tanner, George Kepa, Bevan Page, Solomon Little tries; Page 6 goals) d Past Brothers 32 (Luther Thompson, Joel Fagan, Brent Kuskey, Vahiti Hopoi, Bryce Holdsworth, Quade McGrory tries; Matt Martin 4 goals).