Seagulls spoil the party
Competition leaders Hervey Bay Seagulls overcame the send-off of rugged lock Robert O'Donnell midway through the first half to gatecrash Past Brothers' party with a 32-16 victory in their Bundaberg Broadcasters A-Grade Premiership clash at Brothers Sports Club on Saturday night.
But second-placed Waves Tigers set up a tantalising showdown with them for top spot this weekend by continuing their stunning form with a 46-12 demolition of Easts Magpies at Salter Oval on Sunday afternoon.
Earlier on that program, Wallaroos finally put it all together, outgunning fourth-placed Wests Panthers 32-18 to also join Easts in equal-fifth position.
Brothers were looking to top off a perfect day in a rare match on their home ground after earlier in the day their women had downed Easts 30-12, their U-18s had claimed a season-defining 40-6 win over the Seagulls, and their Reserve-graders edged out the previously undefeated Bay 28-26.
But, after having started their A-Grade title defence against last year's beaten grand finalists with a one-point triumph over the Seagulls on their home turf back in round one on the first Saturday in March, they started poorly, knocking-on in their first set and Hervey Bay made them pay with wing sensation Billy Stefaniuk scoring.
The visitors snared a second try and converted for a 10-0 lead before Brothers fought back to balance the ledger.
However, the Seagulls regained the lead on the stroke of halftime, then stamped their authority despite being one man short in the second stanza, with Stefaniuk, former Toowoomba premiership winning centre Ashley Boney and five-eighth Joel McCrea, who had two great years with Brothers until a knee injury brought an early end to his season last year, each finishing with doubles.
Hervey Bay will now get the chance to stake an early claim to a second straight minor premiership when they suit up against Waves in what is shaping as an early grand final preview this Sunday.
But the Tigers are also roaring after signing yet another Tongan, former dual Brothers premiership winner Peni Tuakalae, who came off the bench to bag a double, along with countryman second-rower Sekope Tua, in the rout of the Magpies.
The reincarnated whipping boys have seven wins to their credit under their first-season coach, former NRL star and State of Origin and Test player Antonio Kaufusi, which is more wins than they chalked up cumulatively in the past five years of hell.
Kaufusi said there were many heroes, including Zak Bainbridge, who moved from fullback into the halves after former NRL five-eighth Masada Iosefa succumbed to injury, and combined perfectly with halfback Dan McLennan.
In an ever burgeoning galaxy of stars, he also lauded second rower Tukerekere Hikaka, former triple Brothers premiership winning electrifying centre Tien Nguyen, and blockbusting Vahiti Hopoi, a dual title-winning frontrower with Brothers.
“Also Rowan Gibbs, who is the only player from the club's last premiership in 2007, who came out of retirement, just keeps getting better and better every week - after being out of the game for so long, he has been starting off the bench, but he is pushing for a place in the run-on side. His talk is great and he just tackles everything in sight - that's why I want him there," Kaufusi said.
Wallaroos also looked good against the Panthers after having been put to the sword by Brothers 50-12 a week earlier.
Winger Lachlan Harrison and in-form frontrower David Ball led the charge with twin doubles.
Roos have the bye this weekend before facing the ultimate test against Waves.
Waves also displayed their new-found depth with their Reserve-graders disposing of Easts 50-12 with hooker Ashley Bell having a field day with 30 points from four tries and seven goals and their U-18s accounting for Maryborough Brothers 40-22 with halfback Jackson Paulson featuring with two tries and three goals.
For Brothers' under-18s, fullback Leyton Chambers racked up 20 points with two tries and six conversions, while centre Mitchell Downie and white-hot five-eighth Wyatt Reynolds also posted two tries apiece, while in Reserve-grade, hooker Dylan Arndt, a four-try 30-point hero the previous week, was again a match winner with one try and four conversions.
Fullback Emma Collinson and halfback Christi Chapman each notched doubles for Brothers' women.
Hervey Bay 32 (Billy Stefaniuk 2, Ashley Boney 2, Joel McCrea 2 tries; Clinton Horne 3, Terry Horne goals) def Past Brothers 16 (Jake Carl, Andrew Filo, Aaron Ratcliffe tries; Carl 2 goals).
Wallaroos 32 (Lachlan Harrison 2, David Ball 2, Joe Byrne, Shaun Collins tries; Jack Horder 4 goals) def Wests 18 (Danny Moran 2, Isacc Tabuai, Rick Nagas tries; James Prichard goal).
Waves Tigers 46 (Sekope Tua 2, Peni Tuakalau 2, Zak Bainbridge, Tien Nguyen, Rueben Baillie, Steve Holani-Latu, Robert Nona tries; Bainbridge 5 goals) def Easts 12 (Dylan Taylor, Caleb Gazzard tries; Taylor 2 goals).