It was so near, but yet so far for Easts Magpies who squandered many chances before being pipped at the post by reigning champions Hervey Bay Seagulls 26-24 in their 4BU/93.9HitzFM A Grade Round 14 showdown at Salter Oval last Sunday.
By their victory, the Seagulls retained a one-point lead atop of the table with two rounds to go in their quest for a second straight minor premiership.
While the Magpies retained fifth place, they are now vulnerable in their quest for a finals’ berth with Wests Panthers moving to within one point of them with a 48-24 blitz of the Isis Devils in the game that followed.
At Eskdale Park on Saturday night, a depleted Past Brothers were still too good for their Maryborough counterparts, triumphing 36-12, before the late surging Waves Tigers posted their fourth win in a row, joining their hosts Wallaroos in equal-third place by edging them out 20-18.
Easts and the Bay were locked together at 12-12 at halftime, but after fumbling the last pass with the try line begging two minutes into the second stanza, the Magpies shocked the Gulls 40 seconds later when winger Cody Stibbards grabbed an intercept and charged over for his second try with Jamie Lowien converting for a six-point lead.
The stunned premiers were outplayed for much of the remainder of the game, but Easts let them off the hook with unforced errors on the end of impressive attacking raids with player/coach Mat Templeman marshalling his troops and powerhouse second rower Tyrone Ward leading a brutal defence.
From there, the Seagulls rarely got out of their half until they scored in the 61st minute with centre Letuia Eliu doing well to stay in the field of play after a cross-field bomb to the right corner was unable to be defused by the Magpies.
It was then all too easy as Eliu strolled through a non-existent defence five minutes later, but a missed simple conversion left them in front just 20-18.
Easts regained the lead five minutes later with front rower Justyn Porter crashing over under the posts and the conversion put them in front by four, but Hervey Bay fully capitalised on back-to-back penalties.
After Templeman was placed on report, interchange player Elijah Alefaio plunged through the defence with three and a half minutes to go and Clinton Horne this time raised the flags for a two-point lead, which they muscled up to protect to the end.
The game was held up for several minutes with Seagulls’ game-breaking player / coach Jai Ingram taken off in a medicab with less than two minutes remaining following a bad ankle injury which could seriously undermine their chances of back-to-back titles.
An injury to former Gold Coast Titan Jai Ingram could prove costly for Hervey Bay
With or without Ingram, the Bay should have too many guns for Isis at Eskdale Park this Saturday, but will have to beat the reborn Waves in the final round at Childers on Saturday week to be assured of the top spot.
Past Brothers had to dig deep to account for Maryborough Brothers with winger Daula Ellison featuring with a double and halfback Tyrell Howard contributing 12 points with a try and four goals.
The Brethren have a potentially easier run home than Hervey Bay with games against Wests and Maryborough Brothers again, and if they can win both of them and the Seagulls lose to the Tigers, they could finish on top of the table.
Easts face a daunting challenge this Sunday against Waves, needing to win to at least consolidate fifth position as also have a tough assignment against Wallaroos to complete the fixture rounds, with Wests now breathing down their necks and having Isis in Childers in the last round.
The Panthers, who have been on the receiving end of some heavy defeats this season, kept their hopes alive by proving too good for the Devils, with Trent Broadhurst putting their stamp on the game with a hat-trick and Dennis Johnson notching a double.
Bundaberg’s other big Cats, the Tigers, really rose to the challenge against the Roos, continuing their winning streak, beating them despite scoring three tries to their four.
Powerhouse Waves winger Arden Lankowski, who has been outstanding in his comeback season after several years away from the game, was a match winner with two tries and four conversions, but in a cruel individual and team blow, he suffered a major shoulder injury which could rule him out for the rest of the season.
Star centre Josh Crowley posted a double for the Roos, but goal kicking again proved their Achilles heel in the two-point loss.
The Roos have a massive nett points differential advantage over Waves, 158 to 37, and should dispose of Maryborough Brothers in the Heritage City derby this Saturday, but the stakes will be high and both sides will be playing for finishing positions when they lock horns with Easts to draw the curtain on fixtures on Sunday week.
Past Brothers’ ladder leading Reserve Grade and Under 18 teams both forfeited their matches, but their Women bounced back from their first loss in two years with a 44-0 whitewash of Waves on Sunday.
Centre Morgan Engstrom bagged a hattrick of tries and fullback Rebecca Kenny picked up a double meanwhile Isis upset fellow first-season women’s outfit Hervey Bay 22-14 with interchange ace Louise Rainbow running in three tries.
ROUND 14 A GRADE RESULTS
PAST BROTHERS 36 (Daula Ellison 2, Sam Robinson, Tyrell Priestley, Tyrell Howard, Brendan Stewart, Tyla Hodge tries; Tyrell Howard 4 goals) defeated MARYBOROUGH BROTHERS 12 (Nicholas Golusin, Jarrabah Davidson tries; Jarrabah Davidson 2 goals)
WAVES 20 (Arden Lankowski 2, Anthony Broome tries; Arden Lankowski 4 goals) defeated WALLAROOS 18 (Josh Crowley 2, Luke Waters, Ben Turner tries; Jack Horder goal)
HERVEY BAY 26 (Letuia Eliu 2, Billy Stefaniuk, Clinton Horne, Elijah Alefaio tries; Clinton Horne 3 goals) defeated EASTS 24 (Cody Stibbards 2, Mat Templeman, Justyn Porter tries; Jamie Lowien 4 goals)
WESTS 48 (Trent Broadhurst 3, Dennis Johnson 2, Robert Telfer, Jarrod Chinfat, Josh Tanner, Raymond Zysk tries; James Prichard 6 goals) defeated ISIS 24 (Aaron Ratcliffe, Liam Gooden, Robert Suter, Tim Cole, B Morris tries; Aaron Ratcliffe, Taylar Barritt goals)
LADDER AFTER ROUND 14: Hervey Bay 24, Pasts Brothers 23, Wallaroos 16, Eastern Across the Waves 16, Eastern Suburbs 13, Western Suburbs 12, Isis 5, Maryborough Brothers 3
For all the latest information on the 2017 4BU/93.9HitzFM BRL Competition, head to the Bundaberg Rugby League website.