EASTS Magpies produced a gutsy team performance to dispel the air of invincibility around Waves Tigers and tough out a doubly significant 18-12 victory over them in their Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade Premiership round 12 showdown at Salter Oval on Saturday night.
By the result, they jumped from sixth to fifth position on the ladder, again moving two points clear of reigning champions Past Brothers, who were edged out by their hosts, third-placed Isis Devils 16-10 at Childers Showgrounds, while Waves also surrendered No. 1 spot, overtaken by last year's beaten grand finalists, Wallaroos, who outclassed whipping boys Hervey Bay Seagulls 50-12 in the early game on the Childers' program.
In the first A Grade combat at Salter Oval, Wests Panthers stayed in fourth berth, one point behind Isis with a 42-12 despatch of Maryborough Brothers.
Magpies v Tigers
Easts really aimed up against the highflyers from the start but Waves eventually drew first blood with former proud and long-serving Magpies champion lock and the competition's leading forwards tryscorer, Reece Maughan, notching his eighth of the season in the 23rd minute.
But front rower Keni Nadaro replied for the Magpies seven minutes later and Tyrone Ward's conversion sent the teams to the break level-pegging at 6-apiece.
The battle continued in the same vein in the second stanza but after the Tigers looked certain to score but couldn't finish off 10 minutes in, the Magpies swooped and went the length of the field on the next set with interchange dynamo Josh Gee crossing in the corner, but while Ward's sideline conversion attempt narrowly missed, they were awarded a penalty for a late hit in the act of scoring and Ward made no mistake with his second kick from in front of the posts.
Then when workaholic second rower Leigh Eade charged through the middle of the ruck and planted the ball over the line four minutes later and Ward kicked a simple conversion, a mammoth upset was on the cards.
Waves had 25 minutes to pull the match out of the fire but they looked far from premiership favourites as they repeatedly committed elementary mistakes, until try-machine winger Billy Stefaniuk finally got the ball and showed all his sizzling speed and supreme skills to score a signature long-range try and Clinton Horne converted to bridge the gap to six points with eight minutes remaining.
Most expected the Tigers to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and again they had their chances, including one last hurrah with the full-time siren imminent, but the Magpies dug very deep to hang on by the skin of their beaks.
Easts had many heroes but captain and halfback Kurtis Booth said their former Australian junior representative front rower Ross Larsen was their Man of the Match in by far his best showing in 2018.
Fight for finals spot
The battle for fifth place and the last finals berth looks set to go down to the wire, with Easts and Brothers to cross swords in the last fixture game of the season on August 4 which shapes as winner-takes-all affair, with the Magpies to meet Wests, Hervey Bay and Isis before that, while the Brethren have an "easier" next three assignments, against Maryborough Brothers at Eskdale Park the next two Saturdays before a high-stakes arm wrestle with Roos.
Waves Tigers have their fate in their own hands, as they meet Roos twice, at Eskdale Park on July 21 and Salter Oval on August 4, and they also face a tough task against Isis at Salter Oval this Saturday but an "easier" test against Maryborough Brothers at Salter Oval in the penultimate round.
Roos v Bay
Last Saturday, Roos were in a class of their own against the Bay, running away with it after leading just 8-6 at the 35-minute mark before extending their buffer to a converted try with a four-pointer.
Triple BRL A Grade Player of the Year and domineering centre Shaun Collins and crafty hooker Ben Waters each bagged hat-tricks while their other try getters included Rigan Nielsen and Daniel Craig, who were both backing up after playing in their 26-24 defeat of Wests in under-18 where hooker Jackson Bollinger was a match-winner also with a hat-trick.
Maryborough Brothers v Wests
Maryborough Brothers were also very competitive against Wests, trailing just 12-6 after the first 40 minutes, but in the end, the Panthers simply had too many guns, with winger Mark Betts, backing up from Under 18, leading the charge with a double, while in a beaten side, high-class centre Paul Shillingsworth also struck twice.
Wests' quest for third place and a double-chance in the finals is also in their own hands as they will suit up against Isis two more times after their tantalising stoush with their cross-town rivals Easts this Saturday, meeting the Devils at Salter Oval on July 21 and Childers on August 4, with a trip to Hervey Bay to suit up against the Seagulls in the curtain-raiser to the Intrust Super Cup Sunshine Coast Falcons-Northern Pride clash sandwiched in between on July 28.
Past Brothers v Isis
Past Brothers' title defence is back on shaky ground after Isis came from behind to defeat them in front of their adoring home crowd.
Long-serving powerhouse second rower Aaron Hall drew first blood for the Brethren in just the seventh minute, but the Devils put their noses in front with a converted try, scored by their enterprising hooker Tim Cole midway through the half, then delivered a vital blow with a second try to winger Ethan West, again converted by former Brothers premiership player Matt Craven, on the stroke of half-time.
Isis put their stamp on the match with a four-pointer to back rower Dion Bunyan with six minutes left on the clock, although their Bundaberg rivals came up with a 79th-minute consolation try.
Isis have the toughest run home of any team, taking on Waves, Wests, Easts and Wests respectively, and although mathematically they can claim the minor premiership as they are only four points behind Roos, they would also need several other results to go their way, and their primary focus will be to hold on to a top-three spot and go into the playoffs fit and in top form.
Meanwhile, Isis retained a three-point lead on the Reserve Grade ladder, courtesy of a Past Brothers forfeit last Saturday, while Easts shored up second place with industrious hooker Nick Lorenz stamping his mark with a double in a 28-10 despatch of Waves.
Past Brothers' only joy for the round came in the women's division where they surged on in their charge towards another title with Jazzman Melling coming off the bench to grab a double and set up a 24-12 win over the much-improved Waves.
Wests 42 (Mark Betts 2, Joseph Doyle, Joshua Johnson, Marlon Johnson, Robert Telfer, Dyirun Johnson, Daula Ellison tries; James Prichard goals) d Maryborough Brothers 12 (Paul Shillingsworth 2 tries; Herbert Tanna 2 goals).
Easts 18 (Joshua Gee, Leigh Eade, Keni Nadaro tries; Tyrone Ward 3 goals) d Waves Tigers 12 (Reece Maughan, Billy Stefaniuk tries; Clinton Horne 2 goals).
Wallaroos 50 (Ben Waters 3, Shaun Collins 3, Edward Booth, Brandon Law, Rigan Nielsen, Daniel Craig tries; Luke Beatty 3, Daniel Beatty, Daniel Craig goals) d Hervey Bay 10 (Camden Russell, Travin Baumann tries; Ben Keelty goal).
Isis 16 (Tim Cole, Ethan West, Dion Bunyan tries; Matt Craven 2 goals) d Past Brothers 10 (Aaron Hall, Tyrell Priestley tries; Ben Kuskey goal).