Central Crows representative Matt Craven ran amok, relished the switch from centre to fullback, racking up a massive 38 points with five tries and nine goals as Isis Devils rebounded from their heavy loss at the hands of Wallaroos a week earlier to beat Maryborough Brothers 66-10 in their Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade Premiership round 10 showdown at Salter Oval last Saturday night.
In the game that followed, Wests Panthers remained within one point of the third-placed Devils by edging out reigning premiers Past Brothers 22-20 in a battle royale with human wrecking ball Joel Turaga repeating his two-try heroics in his return to the club from a stint in North Queensland seven days earlier to again be the match winner.
At Stafford Park, Hervey Bay, last year’s bridesmaids Wallaroos outgunned a competitive Easts Magpies 30-16, while title favourites Waves Tigers went on the rampage against their hosts with the Seagulls plucked 68-12.
After having white-washed the Maryborough Brethren 68-0 in the season opener back on March 24, it was again Devil-gate drive as they established a 32-4 halftime lead and went right on with the job, with centre Dion Bunyan also in the thick of things with a bag of three tries.
The hot and cold Isis will now face the ultimate test tonight against the might of the Tigers at Salter Oval, but while they are the only team to have defeated Waves in 2018, shocking them 30-18 at Childers Showgrounds when they last met on April 21, the Tigers will be hungry for revenge, and if they are at their best, they will be expected to go on their winning ways.
Isis moved to 14 points, and they trail Waves (17) and Wallaroos (16), and are only one point clear of Wests, with Easts and Past Brothers each on 8, and Wallaroos and Hervey Bay on two apiece.
The Devils also maintained top spot in Reserve Grade with fullback Jack Rowan chalking up almost half their points with 22 from a pair of tries and seven goals in a 46-12 dispatch of the Maryborough Brothers.
While the Devils’ assignment is tough this week, the stakes will also be high when Roos host Wests and Eskdale Park, before Easts get the perfect chance to bounce back from two straight brave losses when they suit up against Maryborough Brothers, while in the late game at Salter Oval, Past Brothers should account for the hapless Bay to keep their hopes alive.
Last weekend, Past Brothers drew first blood against Wests with flashy winger Ben Kambanei scoring after five minutes, but the two teams traded tried to go to the break level-pegging at 10-apiece.
The Panthers purred to break the deadlock with Turaga using his bulk to crash over in the sixth minute of the second stanza, with trusty kicker James Prichard adding the extras.
But the Brethren regained the lead at 20-16 with tries to front row young gun Brendan Stewart and speed machine fullback Chris Rose in the 44th and 69th minutes respectively, but with the result in the balance, Turaga plunged over for his second try and Prichard kicked truly four minutes on.
The two sides continued to throw everything at each other over the last five minutes, but Wests were able to guard their slender lead and stay in the race for a vital top-three finish and a double-chance in the finals.
For Brothers, who still trail Easts on points’ differential, it was another case of so near but yet so far and they are in danger of missing the finals for the first time in years.
It was a bleak day for Brothers, with their Reserve graders going down 40-24 to stay a distant seventh on the ladder, their Under 18s drawing with Wallaroos 24-24 with fullback Hamish McKinnon a stand-out for the Fraser Coast outfit with a hat-trick.
Their multiple title winning women suffered their first loss of the year, going down to Hervey Bay 26-12 with interchange player Tiana Williams putting the Seagulls’ stamp on the game with a double.
Easts also threw down the gauntlet to Wallaroos, but it was last year’s beaten grand finalists who had their noses in front 14-12 after the first 40 minute.
It took until the 53rd minute for them to add to their account, but once they broke the shackles, they went for the jugular and took control with three converted tries in a dazzling nine minutes, including a second to their three times BRL A Grade Player of the Year and centre Shaun Collins.
The Magpies refused to surrender and they eventually came up with a consolation try in the last minute.
Meanwhile, adding salt to Hervey Bay’s wounds, the Tigers included three former long-serving Seagulls champions who ran out as enemies in their home-town, try machine winger Billy Stefaniuk, who bagged a hat-trick of tries along with irrepressible centre Trent Seeds, Clinton Horne their 2016 premiership winning captain and mercurial halfback, who kicked 10 goals, and lethal lock Chris Ford, who picked up one four-pointer.
Seeds’ haul took his season tally to 14, and he now leads Stefaniuk and Roos craftsman Luke Waters by three in the try scoring statistics, with Shaun Collins, who took out that award last season with 29, next with 10.
Waves had a few of their big guns missing, but it made no difference as their enormous depth again came to the fore, and they had a couple of “fill-in” players who stepped up to the plate, including 32-year-old fullback Brendan Pimm, who backed up and did a fine job after notching a hat-trick of tries in their similar 64-12 Reserve grade route of the Bay earlier in the afternoon.
Waves’ women also had a rare win, shoring up third position on their ladder by downing Isis 20-16 with fullback Zara Johnson-Gamia a match winner with two tries.
The Seagulls’ only joy came in Under 18, where they retained joint-leadership with Wests with doubles to imposing centres Oscar Dagostino and Casey Russell leading them to a 42-10 taming of the Tigers.
Isis 66 (Matt Craven 5, Dion Bunyan 3, Ashley O’Donnell, Keith Gadd (jnr), Tim Cole, Michael Whelan tries; Craven 9 goals) d Maryborough Brothers 10 (Dalton Harry, Hayden Edmunds tries; Ethan Fisher goal).
Wests 22 (Joel Turaga 2, Robert Telfer, Dallas Bamberry tries; James Prichard 3 goals) d Past Brothers 20 (Chris Rose, Aaron Hall, Brendan Stewart, Ben Kambanei tries; Brendon McKeown 2 goals).
Waves 68 (Trent Seeds 3, Billy Stefaniuk 3, Kristian Colasimone 2, Jake Zaina, Reece Maughan, Robert Nona, Chris Ford tries; Clinton Horne 10 goals) d Hervey Bay 12 (Scott Carter-Lowe, Tiko Hooper tries; Ben Keelty goal).
Wallaroos 30 (Shaun Collins 2, Brandon Law, Ben Turner, Edward Booth, Luke Beatty tries; Law 3 goals) d Easts 16 (Craig Bek, Gordon James, Seremaia Kaulala tries; Jamie Lowien 2 goals).
*Vince Habermann is a QRL correspondent covering the Bundaberg Rugby League