TWO times defending champions Wests Panthers came from behind and snapped a two-match losing streak to claim third place on the Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade Premiership ladder with a tense last-round 28-24 victory over Isis Devils before the Intrust Super Cup clash between Central Capras and Tweed Heads Seagulls at Salte Oval on Saturday night.
Wallaroos had moved two points ahead of them on the ladder when they notched their fourth straight win in the preceding game, outgunning a spirited Easts Magpies 36-30 after second placed Past Brothers had started the program with a 92-6 demolition of cellar dwellers Waves Tigers.
Isis, who had been challenging for third position until their loss at the hands of Brothers six days earlier, rallied and led 12-10 at half-time before edging away, but they lost two of their stars to serious injuries in the run home and the Panthers pounced to secure a qualifying final showdown this Saturday against Past Brothers with winger Willie Nagas and prolific try scoring 18-year-old centre Trent Seeds both finishing with doubles and vastly experienced halfback Josh Garden also grabbing a four-point.
Wests ambushed Brothers 36-32 four weeks ago but the Brethren were without a couple of big guns that day and another epic duel is expected as they fight for the right to take on minor premiers Hervey Bay Seagulls in the major semi-final.
The Devils, who were beaten grand finalists in 2014, face a sudden death finals series, starting against Wallaroos in the elimination match tomorrow night, but they are expected to be bolstered by the return of blockbusting lock Jake Thompson, who has not played since being part of the Queensland Rangers' triumph over their New South Wales' counter-parts last month.
Roos will however be confident under the genius of coach Colin Scott after digging deep to overcome the Magpies, who had upset the Panthers in the previous round, winning a tight battle after scores had been locked at 12-all at oranges and the two sides continued to trade tries.
Fullback Keith Gaddser and interchange Dynamo David Ball each scored two tries for the Maryborough outfit, who wound up on equal points with Wests, 20, but were consigned to fourth on nett points differential of -58 to +126.
It has been a good year for Wallaroos across the board with their Reserve grade and under-18 sides both taking out minor premierships, although their women finished last of five behind Calliope, who ended Brothers' run of four straight minor titles since that competition was formed.
Last Saturday in A Grade, Waves had conceded 110 points while not scoring any against the high flying Seagulls seven days earlier, and with just 14 players, it was always going to be another barrage in the midday sun, but again they never stopped trying and they at least grabbed a consolation try to winger Connor Jones although another blow-out saw them finish their season with 940 points against them.
Brothers blew out a few cobwebs with an unanswered 44 points in the first half and 48 more in the second stanza while having their line breached just once.
Unsung hero front rower Kevin Sherriff lead the charge with four tries, with former Northern Districts premiership winning centre Corey Chapman bagging a hat-trick and Queensland Police representative fullback Jake Carl signing off on a massive points season with 34 from two tries and 13 conversions.
Past Brothers 92 (Kevin Sherriff 4, Corey Chapman 3, Jake Carl 2, Jarren Williams, Tien Nguyen, Jayden Alberts, Brent Kuskey, Bryce Holdsworth, Vahiti Hopoi, Brendon McKeown tries; Carl 13, Holdsworth goals) d Waves Tigers 6 (Connor Jones try; Jackson Paulson goal).
Wallaroos 36 (Keith Gaddser 2, David Ball 2, Cecil Sullivan, Mark Berkery, Lincoln Willmot tries; Gaddser 2, Willmot 2 goals) d Easts 30 (Nick Tanner, Ross Larson, Caleb Gazzard, Lloyd Johnson, Rhys Neil tries; Baidon Cooper 5 goals).
Wests 28 (Willie Nagas 2, Trent Seeds 2, Josh Garden tries; Bevan Page 2, Sam Herbert 2 goals) d Isis 24 (Peter Grant, Zac Suter, Robert O'Donnell, Charlie Higgins tries; Robert O'Donnell 3, Ashley O'Donnell goals).