The new Bundaberg Rugby League season kicked off at the weekend and Past Brothers’ title defence in the 4BU/93.9HitzFM premiership already looks to be on shaky ground after losing many members of their grand final team of last year.
To make matters worse, the defending premiers suffered a first-round 28-4 defeat at the hands of minnows Wests Panthers at Salter Oval on Saturday night.
Club stalwart Corey Tanner has taken the reins at Pantherland and are back after a year from hell.
Brothers fielded just five players from their premiership team, but trailed just 6-0 at the break, before Wests turned up the heat and put their stamp on the game with an inspired 15-minute burst early in the second stanza.
Wests welcomed back gun forward Hayden Priestley and flashy fullback Willie Nagas, two players whom Brothers signed from them last year and were two of their best in their charge to glory.
PNG flyer Daula Ellison, who was a two-try hero in their grand final triumph, was also signed from them by the Panthers.
Nagas was among Wests’ try scorers on Saturday, but it was two of their loyal sons who stuck by them during the dark times, five-eighth Tyson Douglas and captain and second rower James Prichard who really paved the way with two tries each, while the latter also kicked four goals.
Beaten grand finalists Wallaroos picked up where they left off from September with a well-executed 26-0 victory over Easts Magpies.
Not much has changed for last year’s grand finalists, who started the new season with an almost identical team to the one which went within one win of the silverware last season, and it was again electrifying halfback Luke Waters who orchestrated the win, bagging a hattrick of tries in a signature polished all-round performance.
Title favourites Waves Tigers, who have an imposing roster after an impressive recruitment campaign from several clubs, did not have everything their own way against 2016 champions Hervey Bay Seagulls, who have had their playing stocks ravaged, but were far from disgraced in a 28-12 defeat.
With so many new combinations, it may take a while for the Tigers to gel, but they now ooze class and experience across the field under former Test, Origin and NRL star Antonio Kaufusi and will just get better and better.
Representative forward Reece Maughan, who has been the heart and soul of Easts throughout his career until this season, made a super impressive club debut with a double, while their highly potent centres Michael Wise (a former Brothers premiership player who has returned home after a six-year stint with Gladstone Valleys) and Trent Seeds notched one try each.
Mercurial halfback Clinton Horne, one of two long-serving Hervey Bay champions who joined the club, kicked four goals and formed a lethal halves partnership with young gun Tyrell Howard, who was a star in Brothers’ title raid.
Another of last year’s battlers, Isis Devils, who have also recruited strongly to assembly a quality squad, were the biggest winners, white-washing a disappointing Maryborough Brothers 68-0.
The Devils have been transformed under new coach James Murray-Bryant, and have welcomed back electrifying five-eighth Nathan Sullivan after stints at Past Brothers and Easts.
They have also signed aces from Hervey Bay, including centre Steven Brudzinski, who bagged a double, and hooker Damien Otto, who grabbed one four-pointer while setting up countless others in the 12-try route.
Dynamic wingers Nathan Karami and Keith Gadd (junior) each also crossed twice, while former Brothers premiership winner Matthew Craven picked up one try on club debut in his comeback to the game.
High-class former Easts and Waves fullback Zak Bainbridge amassed 24 points with one try and 10 conversions, but it was also pleasing to see two club junior products who have been there through thick and thin, join in the party, blockbusting front rower Royce Blair and crafty half back Tim Cole.
ROUND 1 A GRADE RESULTS
ISIS 68 (Nathan Karami 2, Keith Gadd 2, Steven Brudzinski 2, Zak Bainbridge, Dion Bunyan, Matthew Craven, Damien Otto, Royce Blair, Tim Cole tries; Zak Bainbridge 10 goals) def MARYBOROUGH BROTHERS
WALLAROOS 26 (Luke Waters 3, Todd Campbell, Hamish McKinnon tries; Luke Beatty 2, Jack Horder goals) def EASTS 0
WESTS 28 (Tyson Douglas 2, James Prichard 2, Willie Nagas tries; James Prichard 4 goals) def PAST BROTHERS 4 (Jamie Morey try)
WAVES 28 (Reece Maughan 2, Michael Wise, Trent Seeds, Robert Nona tries; Clinton Horne 4 goals) def HERVEY BAY 12 (Scott Carter-Lowe, Lachlan Jackson tries; Nathan McDonnell, Scott Carter-Lowe goals)
LADDER AFTER ROUND 1: Isis 2, Wallaroos 2, Wests 2, Waves 2, Hervey Bay 0, Past Brothers 0, Easts 0, Maryborough Brothers 0
For all the latest information on the 2018 4BU/93.9HitzFM BRL Competition, head to the Bundaberg Rugby League website.
*Vince Habermann is the QRL correspondent for the Bundaberg Rugby League