The off-season recruitment drive, which snared three of the competition’s leading five try scorers from 2018 in Billy Stefaniuk, Trent Seeds and Matt Craven, reaped dividends for Easts; with two of them cutting loose as the Magpies plucked Hervey Bay Seagulls 40-22 in their Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade Premiership showdown at Salter Oval on Saturday night.
Seeds, who was signed from Waves after racking up 19 tries last year to continue his golden run, turned on four signature tries and wreaked constant havoc.
Craven, a former premiership winner with Brothers, chalked up 20 points with three tries and four conversions in a superb Man of the Match display.
Main Photo (above): Trent Seeds and Matt Craven
Easts were coming off an opening round defeat by Wallaroos in the wet, but the glean that was missing seven days earlier quickly returned, as they established a 16-0 lead in better than even time.
But the Seagulls regrouped and got back to within six points at the break with tries to young guns Slayde Johnson and Casey Russell.
Hervey Bay had the chance to draw level, but dropped the ball over the line five minutes into the second stanza and Seeds made them pay with his third try, before Craven presented it for Seeds to finish off for a 22-point lead with 18 minutes remaining.
The floodgates could have again opened, but with just 16 players, fatigue took its toll and the brave Seagulls got back to within 10 points with 10 minutes left on the clock with two converted tries in the space of four minutes.
However, Craven finally killed off their hopes with his second try in the 72nd minute before putting the icing on the cake with his third in the dying minutes.
Easts’ second year coach Mick O’Sullivan, labelled Craven “the X-factor and the stand-out player on the field”.
“But I have got to complement the forwards – they are small, but they are a very good working pack, with obviously (second rowers) Leigh Eade and Chris Ford standing out, hooker Shane Kemp was probably the unsung hero and (front rower) Hayden Priestley also deserves a mention,” O’Sullivan said.
Wests also rebounded from a tough opening round defeat at the hands of Brothers, proving too good for Maryborough Brothers to the tune of 32-0.
The Panthers led 12-0 at oranges and while their opponents never stopped trying, they rarely seriously threatened and Wests did enough to run in four more tries with 18-year-old fullback Tyson Douglas snaring two tries and taking out the Man of the Match gong.
Without a point after two matches following a 72-0 white-wash at the hands of Hervey Bay to open their campaign, it looks like being a long season for the Maryborough Brethren.
Hervey Bay Seagulls’ women triumphed against Valleys/Roosters 30-6 with front rower Payge Talbot notching a double on club debut.
Two women’s matches were played in Gladstone, with Bundaberg Brothers outgunning Tannum 30-24 and Wallabies white-washing Waves Tigers 28-0.
In Reserve Grade, Easts bounced back to account for Hervey Bay 32-12 with two tries apiece to second rower Jordan Bowman, who was Player of the Match, and livewire centre Isaiah Gala.
Waves, who had the first-up bye, came from behind to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against Roos 20-18 with twin doubles to winger Maea Havea and powerhouse second rower Steven McNab.
Wests Panthers downed Burnett Cutters 22-14 with halfback Dennis Johnson a match winner with a two-try haul, but uncompromising front rower John Newton laying the platform in the engine room with a heavyweight performance.
In Under 18, Wests Panthers purred with a 20-14 victory over Hervey Bay with powerhouse lock Jensen Deamer bagging a hat-trick of tries, but being pipped for the Man of the Match award by bustling front rower Brad Edwards.
Centre Casey Russell also crossed twice in a losing side, before backing up to also pick up a four-pointer for the Seagulls in A Grade.
EASTS 40 (Trent Seeds 4, Matt Craven 3, Chris Ford Tries; Matt Craven 4 GoalS) d HERVEY BAY 22 (Casey Russell, Tiko Hooper, Slayde Johnson Steven Dwyer Tries; Logona Vetemotu 3 goals).
WESTS 32 (Tyson Douglas 2, Jake Evans, James Prichard, Blake Laybutt, Raymond Zysk Tries, James Prichard 4 Goals) d Maryborough Brothers 0.
Waters rises above waves to star in Wallaroos victory
Halfback Luke Waters continued his blistering start to the season, claiming his second straight Man of the Match award to guide Wallaroos to a 36-30 victory over reigning champions Waves Tigers at Salter Oval on Saturday night.
In the return clash of last year’s grand finalists, it was another pulsating and see-sawing end-to-end duel, with Roos holding on by the skin of their teeth after looking to have had the result secure when they established a 12-point buffer in the 68th minute.
Waves, who were making their season debut after having had the first-round bye, made the perfect start with hulking centre Arden Lankowski, playing in his first match since the 2016 grand final, powering over in just the second minute.
But Wallaroos’ reply was swift and sure with tough as teak second rower Ben Turner returning serve two minutes later.
The Tigers reclaimed the lead soon after with electrifying former premiership winning winger for Brothers, Layton Chambers, not taking long to also strike on debut for his new club.
But the two highly potent sides continued to trade tries with Waters scheming his way over before converting, then Waves scoring back-to-back tries via veteran halfback Clinton Horne, and vastly experienced winger Michael Wise, who missed most of last season through injury.
However, Roos claimed a handy 26-18 halftime lead with three tries in the space of 10 minutes, all created by the vision and genius of Waters.
In a carbon copy to the start of the first stanza, Waves began the second with Chambers grabbing his second try after two minutes and slotting a booming side-line conversion to reduce the deficit to four points.
They refused to surrender and they set up a grandstand finish with a 72nd minute try to interchange player Leti Tuivasa and conversion to Chambers.
From there, Roos jealously guarded their lead, but Waves were handed a golden opportunity to snatch a draw with two last-minute calls, a six-to-go, then a penalty in the Roos’ red zone with 36 seconds remaining, sending them into a frenzied attack.
But alas, they lost the ball forward on the right flank on the line as the siren sounded, leaving Roos the winners.
Waters, 24, who is in his 20th season with the club after starting as a five-year-old and in his fourth season in A Grade, said while nothing could take away the pain of two straight grand final losses, it was nice to beat them.
“In saying that, it was their first hit-out and they will improve, but so will we and we will both be up there again come September,” Waters said.
Waters’ father Peter, a former long-time champion player for the club, is again the team coach, and Luke also works for him as a glazier.
“I don’t live with him anymore which is probably good, but I just love playing under him and so do all the boys,” he said.
Luke’s elder brother Ben has also been an integral part of the team for the past four or five years, but he has had to have this season off after requiring a knee reconstruction following an injury in the qualifying final.
Peter, who was sporting a neck brace after pinching a nerve playing lawn bowls during the week, was again proud of his team.
“It was the same performance as against Easts last week, even though it seemed that just about every time they got the ball in good position, they scored,” Peter said.
“They are a bigger and faster team to what Easts put out last week, but even though they put 30 points on us, we defended quite well with what they threw at us, although we have got a bit of work to do on the right hand edge defence.
“It is early days yet, but what it meant was that we will be well and truly competitive again and we are heading in the right direction.”
This Saturday, Roos will face hosts Hervey Bay Seagulls in a Fraser Coast derby at Stafford Park, while Waves will meet Easts in the Match of the Day at Salter Oval.
WALLAROOS 36 (Josiah Alberts, Brandon Law, Brandon Clayton, Zeke Varley, Shaun Collins, Luke Waters, Ben Turner Tries; Luke Waters 4 Goals) d WAVES TIGERS 30 (Layton Chambers 2, Arden Lankowski, Michael Wise, Clinton Horne, Leti Tuivasa Tries; Layton Chambers 3 goals).