Minor premiers Hervey Bay Seagulls gained direct passage to the Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade Premiership decider with a 28-18 major semi-final victory over Wests Panthers at Salter Oval on Saturday night.
Despite posting three tries to the Panthers’ four to that point, scores were locked together at 18-18 until the Seagulls clinched their 18th win in a row with two tries in the last three minutes.
The Panthers will get a second chance against the born again Waves Tigers, who ended Past Brothers’ title defence with a 46-24 demolition in the minor semi-final.
After having the last round bye (and also having the first week of the finals off), Hervey Bay were visibly match-shy, but they did enough to graft out a 12-4 lead by the break.
Wests – as they have done all year – simply refused to surrender and the game looked headed into extra-time before the Seagulls’ late raid.
The Seagulls have swept all before them since a one-point defeat at the hands of Brothers in the season opener back on March 5.
While they will be favourites to achieve their maiden Bundaberg A Grade crown in the grand final at Salter Oval on Sunday week, their late escape may have been a timely reminder that what had happened in their previous 17 games counts for nothing on grand final day.
The Seagulls will no doubt rely heavily on the boot of captain, champion halfback and former dual BRL A Grade Player of the Year Clinton Horne.
In the semi-final, he was a match winner in more ways than one and was successful with his first four kicks.
Coach Tye Ingebrigtsen has had his side firing all season, and he will be determined to lead them to the promised land before taking up a new appointment in Cairns in 2017.
Powerhouse centre Tyrell Priestley bagged a double for the Panthers and while they were magnificent in defeat, they will need to regroup for their preliminary final showdown in the battle of the Big Cats this Sunday.
Their opponents the Tigers have had the better of their three clashes this year and are really peaking at the right time.
The Tigers have won two of three against the Panthers in 2016, a 26-24 result on March 20 and 44-16 on May 22. The Panthers did get the edge in their last encounter, a 38-32 win on July 3.
Wests have a number of survivors from their back-to-back premierships of 2013-14, as well as a number of other premiership players and some exciting young talent.
Waves have a whole new team this year under first year coach, former NRL, State of Origin and Test star Antonio Kaufusi.
The club has spent most of the past nine years in the wilderness since their glorious grand final triumph of 2007.
Brothers went into their clash with Waves with several big guns missing through injury and others carrying injuries.
The writing was on the wall early when one of their former multiple premiership players, the blockbusting front rower Vahiti Hopoi charged over to open the Tigers’ account in the second minute on the back of a penalty.
Fellow Tongan and former Brothers centre sensation Sekope Tua followed suit, again from a penalty.
When Under 18 fullback Jackson Paulson scored and captain and hooker Daniel McLennan kicked his third conversion, Waves led 18-0 after 11 minutes.
Tragically, McLennan’s season ended in agony when he suffered a compound fracture of his ankle two minutes later.
It made no difference as the Tigers continued to rampage and led 34-12 at halftime despite suffering further injuries.
Any hope of a Brothers comeback from the dead was totally killed off when their player/coach Mat Templeman was sent off early in the second stanza.
The Tigers never relinquished control and to add salt to Brothers’ wounds, Tua finished with four tries, while another of their former Brothers multiple-premiership aces, five-eighth Tien Nguyen was also among the scorers.
In Reserve Grade, minor premiers the Hervey Bay Seagulls went down to Maryborough Brothers 26-20 in the major semi-final.
In Under 18, minor premiers Brothers edged out Hervey Bay 18-16 in the major semi, with five-eighth Wyatt Reynolds a match winner with a double. Wallaroos knocked out Maryborough Brothers 44-38 despite scoring six tries to eight.
Maryborough centre Tate Clark amassed five tries and did not deserve to be in a beaten side, but they managed just three goals to Roos’ 10.
In the Women’s division, Isis Devils amazingly booked a place in the grand final with their first win of the season, a 30-22 ambush of Easts Magpies with centre Jessica Neil and interchange player Isobella Watcho co-starring with two tries each and Neil also slotting one goal.
Waves Tigers 46 (Sekope Tua 4, Jackson Paulson, Ben Garratt, Tien Nguyen, Vahiti Hopoi tries; Jackson Paulson 4, Daniel McLennan 3 goals) d Past Brothers 24 (Sam Kuhnel, Quade McGrory, Andrew Filo, Kevin Sherriff tries; Jake Carl 4 goals)
Hervey Bay 28 (Chris Wicks, Issac Pederson, Kevin Tranberg, Tyson Woodman, William Jung tries; Clinton Horne 4 goals) d Wests 18 (Tyrell Priestley 2, Robert Telfer, Isaac Tabuai tries; Quentin Olive goal)