Minor premiers Wallaroos will go into the Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade finals series on the back of two straight losses after being edged out by Waves Tigers 27-24 in an epic last round duel at Salter Oval last Saturday afternoon.
In the match that followed, Past Brothers' title defence ended prematurely as they missed the finals for the first time since the five-team finals format was introduced, beaten by Easts Magpies 30-26 in the battle for fifth position.
At Childers Showgrounds, Hervey Bay Seagulls and Maryborough Brothers played out a 14-14 draw which resulted in the two teams finishing equal-seventh on just three points apiece, but the Seagulls picked up the wooden spoon with a for and against points differential of -433 to -423.
Hosts Isis Devils then rebounded from two straight losses despite again being without two of their biggest stars in Kurt and Jake Thompson, outgunning Wests Panthers 30-22 to also grab third place and a double-chance in the finals at their expense, with the Panthers dropping from third to fifth, also overtaken by Easts.
In what could well have been a dress rehearsal for the grand final, the Tigers, who had been narrowly beaten by their opponents on the Roos' home turf in Maryborough a fortnight earlier, got home in a classic and pulsating end-to-end affair.
The difference for Waves was a mere three goals to two and a field goal to precocious teenage five-eighth and last year's Past Brothers premiership star Tyrell Howard, who also bagged a double.
Also, fresh from his six tries in their 92-0 white-wash of Maryborough Brothers a week earlier, Waves sensational winger and 2016 Hervey Bay premiership ace Billy Stefaniuk put the icing on another leading try scorer award also with a double, taking his season tally to 22 in 14 games.
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After two straight losses during an injury crisis before their Maryborough Brothers route, costing them first position, Waves now look right back on track, but the game again proved that there is nothing between the two sides.
The match also showed that at their best, there is really little between the top five sides and there will be no place for complacency.
It will come down to whichever side puts it all together on the day to decide who will ultimately be hailed the champions.
Two tough narrow losses will do Roos no harm, and their triple BRL A Grade Player of the Year Shaun Collins, who like fine wine just keeps better with age, picked up another double to finish equal-third in the try-scoring stakes with 16 and will again be a trump in their bid for their first Bundaberg premiership in over 10 years.
As minor premiers, the Roos, who were narrowly beaten by the Brethren in last year's decider, will have the first week of the finals off, meaning that they will not play again until August 25 when they meet the winner of the Waves v Isis major semi-final.
In the highest stakes contest of the day last week, Past Brothers drew first blood through high-energy young second rower Hayden Golchert in the sixth minute, but Easts went ahead 14-6 before the premiers hit back to trail by just four points at oranges.
The Magpies then struck three times in quick succession to put their stamp on the game at 30-10 by the 56th minute.
But Brothers dug deep and got back to within four points with seven minutes remaining, including with a second try to Golchert, but try as they may, they simply were unable to come up with the equaliser and Easts hung on for a brave victory to continue their emergence under first-season coach Mick O'Sullivan.
Powerhouse winger Matt Ross continued his outstanding first season with the club after being a major part of Avondale's two Northern Districts premierships in the previous two years, while ultra-consistent centre Sam Kuhnel, who played for Brothers in 2015 before also having two great years with Avondale, came back to haunt his former club, scoring the first try of the second stanza and kicking three goals.
For Brothers, as it has been the case numerous times this campaign, it was a matter of so near but yet so far, and their season is now over.
Over in Childers, Isis threw down the gauntlet early at "The Furnace", establishing a 12-0 lead by the 22nd minute.
But Wests levelled the ledger with two tries to Under 17 hooker Dyirun Johnson in the 33rd and 38th minutes and conversions to sharp shooter James Prichard.
The Devils pulled away again with former Seagulls premiership hooker Damian Otto and former Brothers premiership centre Matt Craven both completing doubles but while the Panthers got to within eight points through a Prichard try and conversion with three minutes left on the clock, the Devils jealously guarded their lead to the end.
Isis welcomed high-quality five-eighth Zak Bainbridge back from injury for his first game since June 23 and second since April 21, and he added much to their side and resumed the kicking duties, landing five attempts.
Despite being relieved of the goal kicking by Bainbridge, Craven's two tries were enough for him to finish first on the leading points scorer list with 98 from 12 tries and 25 goals.
At full strength, the Devils also have the team to challenge for their maiden Bundaberg A Grade crown but will need all hands on deck.
OTHER GRADES - Reserve Grade + Women
In Reserve Grade, Isis, who have struggled to field a team most previous seasons, clinched the minor premiership in that division with loyal club servant and junior product centre Jack Rowan amassing 22 points with two tries and seven conversions in a 42-18 blitz of Wests.
Easts secured second place with a similar 44-18 victory over Past Brothers with centre Fabiano Saladrau chalking up a hat-trick and polished hooker Nick Lorenz bagging a double.
Wallaroos had already wrapped up third place prior to a 36-18 defeat at the hands of fourth placed Waves, with centre Nathan Leather and hooker Bailey Brown both grabbing doubles for the Tigers.
Finally, Maryborough Brothers kept their title defence alive, pilfering the fifth and last finals berth by downing the Seagulls 36-24 on the back of a three-try haul to representative second rower Paul Shillingsworth and two to halfback Ivan Mimi.
The two points drew them level on points with the Panthers and placed them ahead on for and against points' differential, -102 to -116.
Past Brothers' Women, who have been a shining light in an otherwise miserable year for their club, celebrated another minor premiership and powered on in their quest for an eighth title in the nine-year history of that competition with a 28-16 victory over Hervey Bay in their top of the table showdown.
Long serving champion halfback Christi Chapman and tough second rower Morgan Engstrom led the charge with two tries each.
In a prelude to the first finals match-up in the four-team league, wooden spooners Isis accounted for third places Waves 30-22.
There are no games this weekend with the entire focus being the BRL Presentation Dinner tonight, with the finals to get under way with the elimination and qualifying next matches in all grades next Saturday.
ROUND 16 A GRADE RESULTS
WAVES 27 (Tyrell Howard 2, Billy Stefaniuk 2, Reece Maughan tries; Clinton Horne 3 goals, Tyrell Howard field goal) defeated WALLAROOS 24 (Shaun Collins 2, Zeke Varley, Brandon Clayton, Ben Waters tries; Daniel Beatty 2 goals)
EASTS 30 (Matt Ross 2, Sam Kuhnel, Jarrod Johnson, Leigh Eade, Danny Moran tries; Sam Kuhnel 3 goals) defeated PAST BROTHERS 26 (Hayden Golchert 2, Layton Chambers, Klint Beer, Kevin Sherriff tries; Chambers 3 goals)
MARYBOROUGH BROTHERS 14 (Paul Shillingsworth, Kenshin Tsutsui tries; Ethan Fisher 2, Dalton Harry goals) drew HERVEY BAY 14 (Ben Keelty, Steven Dwyer tries; Ben Hudson 3 goals)
ISIS 30 (Damian Otto 2, Matt Craven 2, Steven Brudzinski tries; Zak Bainbridge 5 goals) defeated WESTS 22 (Dyirun Johnson, M Betts, James Prichard tries; James Prichard 3 goals)
LADDER AFTER ROUND 16: Wallaroos 24, Waves 23, Isis 20, Easts 20, Wests 19, Past Brothers 16, Maryborough Brothers 3, Hervey Bay 3
*Vince Habermann is a QRL Correspondent covering the Bundaberg Rugby League.