Despite scoring the first two tries of the Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade finale at Salter Oval on Saturday, the Wallaroos have been once again sentenced to runners up duties as the Waves Tigers triumphed to a 23-20 victory, ending a long 11-year title drought.
The Tigers, under the guidance of former Maroons player Antonio Kaufusi (and brother of current Queensland player Felise Kaufusi), provided an early onslaught on the minor premiers, but last year's beaten grand finalists held out the juggernaut in the early stages of the decider.
After coughing up possession from the kick-off, the Roos quickly settled into their rhythm before striking twice in quick succession in the 12th and 15th minutes, with firstly an unmarked left winger Brandon Clayton finishing off.
Then when flashy centre Brandon Law scooped up the ball from a perfectly placed stab kick three minutes later, the Maryborough team was on track. However in the end, their failure to convert either of those tries, the second from a very kickable position, proved costly.
But as he has done so many times throughout his young, but sparkling career, winger Billy Stefaniuk (the competition's leading try scorer again in 2018), swung the momentum when he finished brilliantly after juggling the ball from an superb draw and pass from 17-year-old fullback Leyton Ey.
From a trickle, suddenly the Tigers whipped up a tidal wave with three more tries in a 20-point splurge, with firstly Tongan centre of excellence Sekope Tua, a former dual-premiership winner for Brothers, grabbing the ball after it had bounced out of Roos' hands from another perfectly placed cross-field bomb three minutes on.
The Tigers went in for the kill, with Stefaniuk striking again within three minutes to put them ahead by a converted try.
Knocked to the canvas, the Roos had no answer, and they suffered another major blow soon after when they did not have a dummy-half after a play-the-ball, with powerhouse Waves lock Reece Maughan - who they recruited from Easts Magpies this year - scoring to rub salt into the wounds.
Wallaroos reduced the halftime deficit to just 10 points with a Luke Beatty penalty goal after the siren.
Waves drew first blood in the second stanza with Horne again kicking truly 11 minutes after the restart, but triple BRL A Grade Player of the Year Shaun Collins got the Roos back in the contest when he pounced on the ball from another pin-point grubber and Law added the extras.
In a heartbeat, the Roos had their turn to attack, but Waves' rigid defence aimed up magnificently to protect their six-point lead.
But when Kaufusi hobbled off with a serious knee injury with 7.46 minutes left on the clock, the game looked Roos' for the taking.
Still, the Tigers' big guns rolled up their sleeves to protect their lead.
However, perennial game-breaking Wallaroos second rower Ben Turner worked hard to gave his side the ideal platform to mount an attack when he caught the ball and shed tackles on a 50m gallop out of their red zone on the end of the next set - but they lost the ball on the next tackle.
A penalty gave the Blue and Whites another shot in Waves' territory, but the Tigers' defence was again impenetrable.
Another Roos' knock-on with three minutes left on the clock opened the door for Waves to deliver the winning blow on the end of the next set thanks to Tyrell Howard.
The young five-eighth was one of the stars in Past Brothers' grand final glory 12 months earlier, and he coolly slotted a field goal from 28 metres out for a seven-point lead with 1.57 left on the clock.
Roos centre Collins showed all his guile and experience to steal the ball from the kick-off, but Waves dug deep to hold them until the final siren.
The Tigers' bench and some supporters swarmed on to the field in celebration, but there was more drama to come.
Referee Mark Staib had not blown fulltime and once the supporters had been removed from the field, he awarded a penalty to Roos on Waves' line and after throwing the ball around; fullback Joey Alberts dived over in the left corner, triggering an altercation between several players from both teams.
The Roos' supporters' cries for a potential eight-point try were ignored by Staib, who after considered deliberation awarded the try and sent captain and halfback Luke Waters to the sin bin.
Wallaroos opted not to take the conversion attempt, with Staib signalling fulltime, allowing Waves to finally celebrate a famous victory, after having previously raised the trophy in 2007.
It was the perfect ending to Waves' 25th anniversary season after having emerged from a rebirth and rebranding of the former Wanderers club. They were also the Tigers and had won six A Grade premierships in the 70s, but only two more – in 1988 and 1990 – before their change of name and allegiance.
Apart from their glorious victory in 2007, Waves had reached the grand final on only four other occasions in their quarter-century of existence – in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2016 – losing on each occasion. However, from 2009-2015, they struggled, claiming a string of wooden spoons and regularly struggling to field teams.
But that all changed when Kaufusi retired from a decorated NRL career and returned home after his final season in the big league with the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2015 and signed on as the Tigers' coach.
Forrmer Wanderers junior Ashley Simpson, who led Brothers to a string of premierships before his retirement as a player, joined him as assistant coach under a re-invigorated and proactive committee.
The Tigers made the big dance in Kaufusi's first year, only to lose to Hervey Bay 20-12 with the Seagulls side including three players who were major parts of this coup, Stefaniuk, Horne and super competitive second rower Chris Ford, but they were disappointing in 2017, prompting a major recruitment drive which ultimately reaped the biggest prize in the Bundaberg Rugby League.
Their team included just three survivors from their grand final team of two years earlier.
Tua, who received the Les Somerville Medal for Best and Fairest in the grand final and high impact interchange forwards Tukerekere Hikaka and Rohan Gibbs, a club junior product who made a comeback after a time away from the game three years ago and whose father Allan was a Wanderers legend.
Inspirational young captain and hooker Daniel McLennan would also have been part of that team but for suffering a badly broken ankle in the first week of the finals that year.
That he was able to recover and make a comeback last season was a miracle in itself and no one deserved it more than the affable club junior product who played all his football with the Tigers apart from a stint in Brisbane.
Waves had been pipped by Wallaroos for the minor premiership and had also been edged by them in the major semi-final, but they won the two games that counted most after also taking out the mid-season Toyota Cup in June.
The victory was sweet for their officials and supporters, and it was the culmination of a three-year plan set in place by Kaufusi and Simpson, who also took over as club president this season and is also the team's LeagueSafe.
On the other hand, a second straight narrow grand final defeat was a bitter pill to swallow for the Roos, but they can again be proud of their efforts with a mostly home-grown side.
Women's Grand Final Wrap
Waves also contested their maiden women's grand final, but nothing could stop Past Brothers who prevailed 32-6 for their fourth straight gong and eighth in the nine-year history of that competition with a team that include four Curtis girls, two sets of sisters, Nicole and Brieanna and their cousins Sharna and Chloe.
The Tigers knocked on from the kick-off and Brothers quickly put their stamp on the contest, establishing a 12-0 lead in less than eight minutes.
Hard running centres Tiara Best and Sharna Curtis each crossed for tries and Nicole Curtis raised the flags with both conversion attempts.
But Waves regrouped and matched the minor premiers in all departments for the rest of the half, although it took until three minutes before the break to open their account with captain and second rower Courtney Douglas pouncing on a Brothers lost ball.
However, Douglas and team-mate Tori-Leigh Smith were both sin binned three minutes into the second stanza, but they were 38 seconds away from returning from their 10-minute expulsions when Brothers finally capitalised on their two extra numbers with hooker Brieanna Curtis finishing off after a 60-metre burst by her big sister Nicole, a former Queensland Women's representative.
That was after the game had been stopped for over half an hour when the ambulance had to be called to help a young Waves player who had suffered a dislocated shoulder.
The floodgates opened for the women in pink and blue in the last 10 minutes, with three more tries to put the icing on the cake.
Creative halfback and BRL Women's Player of the Year Christi Chapman was rewarded, while Nicole Curtis, who was sensational throughout, picking up a try of her own in a signature five-star all-round display which included four goals and saw her claim the player of the match gong. Tiara Best completed a book-ends double after being served up an exquisite pass by Nicole.
Captain and rugged front rower Chelsea Morrison sung the praises of her team-mates and coach Andrew Filo, who has guided them to back-to-back titles in his two years in the position.
Under 18 and Reserve Grade grand finals
The other two BRL titles decided on the day were also won by Bundaberg clubs with the star-studded minor premiers Wests Panthers outclassing Hervey Bay Seagulls 46-12 in the Under 18 clash and Easts Magpies shading Isis Devils, who topped the table, 22-20 in Reserve Grade.
Electrifying halfback Dyirun Johnson, whose father Leon was the team coach and who also established himself as an A Grade star late in the season, truly led from the front for the Panthers.
Front rower Jakeb Sharpe bagged a double in a robust all-round performance, and powerhouse second rower Lachlan Patterson, who was also outstanding in his few A Grade appearances before their minor semi-final exit, amassed 12 points with one try and four conversions.
Zac Laybutt, who led the club to the Under 16 crown six days earlier, came off the bench to also make his mark, including kicking three goals.
In Reserve Grade, both teams had four individual try scorers but it was the boot of Easts' pocket dynamo halfback Lewin Theuerkauf-Smith who was a match winner with three goals to Isis' two.
Magpies player / coach and hooker Nick Lorenz did a wonderful job in his first season at the helm and he was again an unsung hero on the field with his polished service from dummy-half throughout and his high work rate in defence.
BUNDABERG GRAND FINAL RESULTS
WAVES 23 (Billy Stefaniuk 2, Reece Maughan, Sekope Tua tries; Clinton Horne 3 goals; Tyrell Howard field goal) defeated WALLAROOS 20 (Brandon Law, Shaun Collins, Josiah Alberts, Brandon Clayton tries; Law, Luke Beatty goals)
EASTS 22 (Keane Gooch, Joshua Batten, Josaia Raboiliku, Sakenasa Lalakomacuata tries; Lewin Theuerkauf-Smith 3 goals) defeated ISIS 20 (Jack Rowan, Ethan West, Joel Denduck, Eric Harrison tries; Rowan 2 goals)
WESTS 46 (Jakeb Sharpe 2, Lachlan Patterson, Dyirun Johnson, Corey Gough, Gage Laird, Tomasi Tikonilia, Livingstone Lingawa tries; Patterson 4, Zac Laybutt 3 goals) defeated HERVEY BAY 12 (Ben Hudson, Luke Hudson tries; Ben Hudson 2 goals)
PAST BROTHERS 32 (Tiara Best 2, Nicole Curtis, Sharna Curtis, Christi Chapman, Brieanna Curtis tries; Nicole Curtis 4 goals) defeated WAVES 6 (Courtenay Douglas try; Kristin Gibbs goal)
*Vince Habermann is a QRL Correspondent covering the Bundaberg Rugby League.