Josateki Masibalavu was the match winner for Easts Magpies, bagging a hat-trick to spearhead them to a crucial 22-10 victory over Hervey Bay Seagulls in their Round 7 Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade Premiership clash.
Masibalavu is one of seven newly-arrived Fijian Visa players who have greatly bolstered Easts Magpies, and proved the difference at at Salter Oval on Saturday night..
The 24-year-old flier, only arrived in the country on Friday morning, but dazzled on club debut in Reserve Grade, scoring a try in the Magpies’ 37-10 blitz of the Bay, prompting coach Mick O’Sullivan to add him to his A Grade bench.
“I had a look at him in Reserve Grade and after his first few touches, I said 'yep, he’s the man', and he was the perfect replacement, coming on 20 minutes in when centre Matt Ross, who has been one of our best week-in-week-out, was injured – he’s quick, very quick,” O’Sullivan said.
Starting winger Sakenasa Lalakomacuata, one of five of the group who previously played for Easts last season, posted their first try; but Masibalavu had two tries by halftime, the second of which saw Matthew Craven’s conversion give them a 16-8 lead.
With the stakes so high with Easts trying to shore up fifth position and Hervey Bay needing to win to stay in touch with them, the spirited duel continued in the second stanza.
The Seagulls got back to within four points with James Siemsen’s try in the 55th minute, despite having Dion Bunyan in the sin bin.
But Masibalavu sealed the deal with his third try 10 minutes from the end.
O’Sullivan said the club had developed a Fijian connection for the past three years and Lalakomacuata was a player returning with unfinished business after playing in last year’s elimination final.
Despite losing 20-10 to Wests in last year’s qualifier, the Seagulls coach believed Masibalavu added a real X-Factor.
“They are here to work for one of our sponsors, Marto’s Farms, and play footy for the rest of the season because their visas are for five months and that will take them past the finals,” O’Sullivan said.
“Josateki plays club football in Fiji and rugby union and he will only get better, but he’s something special.”
Masibalavu did not say much as he can only speak broken English, but his broad smile and flashy boots said it all.
Despite his heroics, their halves Craven and Tim Cole, who played together for Isis Devils last year, were among their best, while O’Sullivan also lauded ultra-consistent second rower Leigh Eade for a signature non-stop performance.
Despite the win, Easts remain in fifth place on for-and-against after Wests Panthers had a charity pick-up courtesy of a Maryborough Brothers forfeit, and are now four points clear of Hervey Bay.
With just one win adrift of the third-placed Tigers, O’Sullivan still has his sights set on a climb up the ladder.
Star forward Chris Ford is due back from a broken hand soon, while Justyn Porter will return from injury against Wests at Brothers Sports Club, although another big gun fullback Craig Bek still has three games remaining of his five-match suspension.
“But we have to try and get the new guys fitting in more and get the combinations really going because it is getting to a stage that if you drop some games, it is too hard to catch them up,” O’Sullivan said.
Two other Fijians were also among the tries for the Magpies in Reserve Grade with winger Paula Naidika notching a double and centre Seremaia Kaulala crossing twice before also coming off the pine in top grade.
But the real star of that show was electrifying halfback Jackson Paulson, who continued his outstanding form with a 17-point haul from one try, six conversions and a field goal in another man of the match performance.
Meanwhile; at Eskdale Park in Maryborough, there were also two three-try hauls, including by giant centre Arden Lankowski, who led reigning champions Waves Tigers to a 26-16 win over Wallaroos - their first loss of the year.
In the Heritage City, Wallaroos were trying to repeat their 36-30 ambush of Waves in Round 2 back on April 6, but the Tigers completed a hat-trick of wins with a strong five tries to three showing to get right back on track and move within two points of joint-leaders Past Brothers and Roos.
Shaun Collins, returning to five-eighth for the hosts, was at his vintage best, also with a triple try treat for Roos, but Waves really aimed up in defence, backing it up from their big win over Hervey Bay a week earlier to restrict them to just those three tries.
Roos will attempt to bounce back when they suit up against hosts Brothers in a top of the table blockbuster this Saturday night, while the sky could be the limit for the premiers when they head back to Eskdale Park to meet minnows Maryborough Brothers.
Wests’ two teams which played on the day were both successful with their Under 18s staving off competition leaders Hervey Bay 24-20 with Papua New Guinean second rower Livingstone Lingawa chalking up a hat-trick in his first game for the club for the year, then adding another in their Reserve Grade 32-26 dispatch of Burnett Cutters in which 19-year-old halfback Tyson Douglas also snared three four-pointers.
The Seagulls flew high in the Bundaberg / Gladstone Intercity Women’s League and landed in second place on the ladder with a shock 50-0 whitewash of Wallaby’s in Gladstone with fullback Louise Rainbow running amok with four tries.
But the unbeaten Brothers powered on with former Queensland Open representative fullback Kady Tinker also grabbing three tries in a 42-0 shut-out of Valleys / Roosters.
Round 7 A Grade Results
EASTS 22 (Josateki Masibalavu 3, Sakenasa Lalakomacuata tries; Matthew Craven 3 goals) defeated HERVEY BAY 12 (Daniel Sylvester, Tiko Hooper, James Siemsen tries)
WAVES TIGERS 26 (Arden Lankowski 3, Michael Wise, James Brosnan tries; Layton Chambers 3 goals) defeated WALLAROOS 16 (Shaun Collins 3 tries; Daniel Beatty 2 goals)
WESTS defeated MARYBOROUGH BROTHERS (forfeit)