Both teams had several stars missing, but Past Brothers and Wallaroos turned to the department of youth and they delivered, as the two Blue and Whites maintained their positions as unbeaten joint-leaders in the Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade Premiership with hard-fought Round 5 wins at Salter Oval last Saturday night.
After trading tries with Easts Magpies to be level-pegging at 16-16 at halftime, then both sides being unable to break the deadlock for the first 23 minutes of the second stanza, Brothers finished with a rush with four more converted tries to triumph 40-16 with tough centre Tyrell Priestley completing a hattrick and electrifying five-eighth Jayden Alberts scoring two of their last three tries.
Wallaroos were also never headed, but after Wests had locked scores up at 22-22 in a similar epic duel in the 77th minute, they dropped the ball on the first tackle from the restart and the pride of Maryborough made them pay with 19-year-old winger Zeke Varley crossing in the right corner one minute later and halfback Daniel Beatty kicking a booming side-line conversion to clinch a 28-22 win.
But before they could secure the competition points, they had to hold on for the last 30 seconds after the Panthers regained the ball from a short kick-off and went on a frenzied attacking raid, only to be beaten by the siren.
Earlier, reigning champions Waves produced plenty of attacking flare, but may have clocked off early and ultimately just hung on to get the chocolates 30-28 after the Hervey Bay Seagulls grabbed three converted tries in the last eight minutes. They also created a chance for another when they kicked the ball through the scooping hands of the Tigers fullback in the dying seconds, only for unheralded winger James Brosnan to clean up the crumbs.
While Priestley, was a three-try star, Brothers coach Steve Plath singled out 17-year-old debutant Jake Bonus for his greatest praise, playing the last 60 minutes and doing everything asked of him in a good team effort in the second half.
The Bonus name is synonymous with the Past Brothers club; father Anthony was a club champion and also played First Grade for Melbourne Storm, Parramatta Eels and Illawarra Steelers during his distinguished career.
The Brethren were without four of their regulars, including probably their two best players in hooker Brent Kuskey and centre Tien Nguyen, and Bonus, a specialist halfback or fullback, was thrown into the fray at hooker – a position he had never played before - after Reserve Grade rake Nathan Moore had weathered the storm for the first 20 minutes – and he got his name on the scorecard with a last-minute conversion.
Plath said he had intended to use Bonus in 20-minute bursts.
“He played that well, I couldn’t bring him off – he was unreal and was the Players’ Player,” he said.
“Jake has been training with the team for six weeks and despite not playing a game all year, I knew he could do the job.”
Bonus said he had been nervous, but that he appreciated the opportunity and the support of his dad and team-mates around him and will be glad to play whenever required.
However, his main rugby league focus at the moment will be playing for Shalom College in this year’s upcoming QISSRL Confraternity Carnival which Shalom will host in the upcoming July school holidays.
Plath said his side “didn’t turn up in the first 20 minutes” during which time both teams scored almost at will and traded tries.
“In the first half, we did not play to the standard we set this year – we’ve got a magic number of 12 for points against in a game and we conceded 16 in 27 minutes,” said Plath.
“I was impressed with how we turned that around, and Tyrell Priestley was really strong in the second half and so was big Brendan Stewart and Zak Bainbridge.”
He also hailed unknown signings, 20-year-olds winger Josh Straub, who scored the try to put them back in the lead late in the first stanza and is playing in his first of league for seven years, and bulky interchange front rower Sahli Komndi, who has also returned to the game after a three-year absence brought on by injuries.
Brothers will head to Hervey Bay this Saturday to take on the Seagulls, whilst Wallaroos will meet minnows Maryborough Brothers at Eskdale Park, with the joint-leaders not to suit up against each other for the first time this year until June 8 at Brothers Sports Club.
Wallaroos were also without two of their biggest guns who were both injured while playing for Bundaberg in the 47th Battalion; halfback Luke Waters, who had been man of the match in their first three games of the season will be out for 8-12 weeks with a knee injury, as well as prolific scoring centre Brandon Law.
Although the setback, Daniel Beatty made a timely return after an overseas sojourn for his first game since last year’s grand final and filled Waters’ big boots with aplomb.
Hooker Bailey Robertson - aged 17 - was backing up from Under 18, and also played beyond his years and was a match winner with a double, and they debuted two more outstanding Under 18 talents, Lochlan Greenfield in the centres and Seth Laherty off the bench.
Waves showed plenty of attacking brilliance with fullback Arden Lankowski and perennial game breaking Tongan centre Sekope Tua, also returning for his first match since last year’s decider, each bagging doubles.
The Seagulls refused to fly the white flag, and their brightest stars, dazzling fullback Logona Vetemotu and barnstorming second rower Dion Bunyan also each crossed twice in their late comeback and proved that the Seagulls can also be a force if they can put it together for 80 minutes.
The Tigers will combat the Panthers in the battle of the big Cats in the only A Grade fixture at Salter Oval this Saturday.
ROUND 5 A GRADE RESULTS
WAVES TIGERS 30 (Arden Lankowski 2, Sekope Tua 2, James Brosnan, Kristian Colasimone tries; Clinton Horne 3 goals) defeated HERVEY BAY 28 (Logona Vetemotu 2, Dion Bunyan 2, Tiko Hooper tries; Logona Vetemotu 4 goals)
WALLAROOS 28 (Bailey Robertson 2, Zeke Varley, William Jung, Beaudyn McMahon tries; Daniel Beatty 4 goals) defeated WESTS 22 (Marshall Murphy 2, Zinneh Marshall, Daniel Tanner tries; Bevan Page 2, Joshua Tanner goals)
PAST BROTHERS 40 (Tyrell Priestley 3, Jayden Alberts 2, Zak Bainbridge, Josh Straub tries; Zak Bainbridge 5, Jake Bonus goals) defeated EASTS MAGPIES 16 (Trent Seeds 2, Matthew Ross tries; Matt Craven 2 goals)