REIGNING champions Past Brothers claimed the outright lead in the Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade Premiership with a 72-16 victory over Isis Devils in the third match of the Round 4 triple-header at Salter Oval on Saturday night.
But while Waves Tigers dropped their first match of the season in the preceding game, they lost no admirers, going down to Hervey Bay 8-0, with the Seagulls joining them in equal second place.
Wests Panthers, who had been edged out by the Tigers 26-24 in the previous round before the Easter break, joined the Tigers and Seagulls on six points with a 40-18 demolition of Easts Magpies to start the day.
With the Devils able to scrape together a bare 13 players, it was always going to be mission impossible against the Brethren, who were clinical against a side which never stopped trying and was rewarded with 16 second-half points after trailing 40-0 at oranges.
Past Brothers also did their job well with Australian Services representative fullback Jake Carl amassing three tries, including a spectacular 100m solo, and four goals in another Man of the Match performance.
But honours were shared around with eight team-mates also among the tries, including teenage centre Jayden Alberts, ever-improving halfback Andrew Filo and powerhouse second rower and captain Kevin Sherriff.
Former Queensland Rangers representative five-eighth Nathan Sullivan grabbed one four-pointer in his first match against his former long-time club.
Brothers have lost their best player in coach Matt Templeman, who has been ruled out for the season after surgery for a broken ankle which he suffered in Round 1, and they will face a sterner test against Wests this Saturday night, while Isis will be hoping to have players back for their showdown with the fellow win-less but highly potent Wallaroos, who will be coming off the bye.
The Seagulls-Tigers showdown was a clash of the titans between two well-drilled, exciting and tough all-round outfits, but the Bay struck a crucial blow with their second try on the stroke of half-time.
The second stanza was a repeat of the first with many sparkling attacking raids, but uncompromising defence the major highlight in a rare scoreless half.
Hervey Bay's only loss so far was a 13-12 home defeat at the hands of Brothers on March 5, with Saturday's result again underlining how little there is between the top four teams.
With the Tigers having a new coach this season in former NRL, Origin and Test representative Antonio Kaufusi, and 12 new quality players in their A Grade team; they may have more improvement in them than any other team – especially with former club junior star Rohan Gibbs to also make a comeback on Saturday after four years out of the game.
Wests have been the biggest surprise packets and they again looked good in disposing of the Magpies with five-eighth Matt Tanner, who has returned to the Panthers this season after eight good seasons with Easts, driving the attack in tandem with his halves partner Josh Garden.
Second rower Rick Nagas was at his vintage best, grabbing two tries in a signature robust all-round display, while emerging centre Quentin Olive amassed 16 points with two tries and four goals.
Meanwhile, in the first round of the Women's division, former multiple Queensland Open representative five-eighth Nicole Curtis, who missed all of last season after surgery, made a successful comeback, scoring two tries and kicking one goal as Past Brothers outgunned Easts 20-14 in an epic duel.
Wests 40 (Quentin Olive 2, Rick Nagas 2, Trent Seeds, Willie Nagas, Josh Tanner, Solomon Little tries; Olive 4 goals) def Easts 18 (Hayden McCracken, Nick Toovey, Cody Stibbards, Jamison Kaye tries; Jesse Keven goal).
Hervey Bay 8 (Clinton Horne, Robert O'Donnell tries) def Waves 0.
Past Brothers 72 (Jake Carl 3, Jayden Alberts 2, Andrew Filo 2, Kevin Sherriff 2, Francis Pearson, Nathan Sullivan, Taia Savage, Joel Fagan, Quade McGrory tries; Carl 4, Filo 3, Alberts goals) def Isis 16 (Royce Blair 2, Rhys Neill tries; Taylar Barritt, Ray Stahn goals).
Points: Brothers 8, Waves 6, Wests 6, Hervey Bay 6, Isis 2, Wallaroos 2, Easts 2.
Past Brothers 20 (Nicole Curtis 2, Jaedyn Stibbards, Jude Bust tries; Bonnie Coolee, Curtis goals) def Easts 14 (Nea Robinson, Tiara Nagas-Best, Shirleen Collis tries; Robinson goal).