Despite missing a string of their stars, Past Brothers rebounded from their first loss of the year to seal the Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade Premiership minor title with a 36-6 blitz of Hervey Bay Seagulls in Round 14 at Salter Oval on Saturday afternoon.
At the other end of the ladder, Wests Panthers climbed back into the top five, moving past Hervey Bay by claiming their second straight big scalp, ambushing premiers Waves Tigers 34-16 with age and experience combining to form a potent mix.
The Tigers were expected to unleash their fury after their costly shock loss to Hervey Bay a week earlier, but with coach Antonio Kaufusi at the Melbourne Storm Old Boys Day, they were again lethargic from the start, and the Panthers pounced.
Five-eighth Dyirun Johnson, backing up from Under 18 earlier in the day, struck twice in the first 16 minutes to set up a 12-0 lead, before another Under 18 rising star in winger Jensen Deamer also crossed three minutes later.
From there, Wests – who had clipped Wallaroos’ wings in their previous match – were always in control, going on to establish a 24-0 halftime lead, and finding their second wind after Waves had rallied with the first two tries of the second stanza.
The Panthers stemmed the tide and after a scoreless next 21 minutes, they put the icing on the cake with two of Johnson’s second cousins, veteran brothers Jarrod and Joshua Johnson, who keep defying time at the ages of 38 and 40 respectively, each scoring in the space of six minutes.
The Tigers came up with a consolation try with 30 seconds left, but after being entrenched in the top three for most of the season, they are now just one point ahead of fourth placed Wallaroos.
Third place and a berth in the qualifying final will be up for grabs when they meet in another clash of last year’s grand finalists in the penultimate round at Salter Oval on Saturday.
The Panthers lost 50-12 in their only previous duel this season against the Tigers and coach Corey Tanner was proud of the dramatic turn-around and the character that they showed.
“It is a great confidence builder and it shows just how much heart we have,” Tanner said.
Despite describing Dyirun Johnson and another Under 18 outstanding prospect Livingstone Lingawa as “two great young footballers”, he said his brother and lethal lock Josh Tanner “always leads from the front” and that it was also “good to have Josh Johnson back”.
“I want to try and get Dyirun and Livingstone to Sydney as soon as I can, next season if possible, but they can have another year here if they want,” Tanner said.
“They are very talented kids, but the effort of all the Under 18s who backed up (also Deamer and Mikal Broome) was also great – they are all special kids – they know they have got my confidence and they just love playing footy for Wests.”
Wests have the bye this Saturday and they will be overtaken by Hervey Bay, who will receive forfeit points after being drawn to play Maryborough, so the stage is set for a last round blockbuster between the Seagulls and Panthers on Saturday week, with the winner to finish fifth and advance to the finals, but the loser to bow out.
“We know we have to win to play semi-final football and we look forward to taking on Hervey Bay,” Tanner said.
Without six of their best, including three of their five-star spine, Brothers also looked in danger when the Seagulls scored the first try of the match in the 12th minute, but they toughed out a 12-6 lead at oranges with hard working second rower Ben Kuskey, relishing a rare run in the starting side, notching his first double and just his fourth try of the year, in the 20th and 15th minutes.
They added a further four unanswered converted tries in the second term, including five-eighth Zak Bainbridge scoring and completing six conversions from as many attempts to take his season points haul to a staggering 168 from seven tries and 70 goals.
Brothers coach Steve Plath said Kuskey was “outstanding”, while former Australian 15 years Honorary Team member centre Josh Birch was “unreal”. Fellow centre Tyrell Priestley and captain and front rower Kevin Sherriff were “just class”.
He also lauded veteran fill-in halfback Nathan Moore, 34, whom he said “turned back the clock” in an 80-minute performance, and 17-year-old Jake Bonus, who filled Brent Kuskey’s shoes well at hooker.
“We won the minor premiership, so once again it is a tick; but we have done absolutely nothing yet,” Plath said.
“It was a good turn-around from last week – they scored the first try, but to put on 36 unanswered points after that was a big effort and I was proud of the way we ground out the second half – I knew that if we could play down their end, the points would come.”
Plath was looking forward to their rematch with Easts this weekend.
“Easts have stepped up a level with extra big bodies in the middle, but we took a few positives out of last week – we had a completion rate under 50% but to be still in the game with 15 minutes to go was a massive effort,” he said.
“Easts will be tough again, but we will take a bit of confidence from this and we worked on a few things we need to do against Easts.”
Women’s and lower grade update
Brothers made it a clean-sweep of the Bundaberg Toyota Challenge silverware in the three senior grade they are contesting, with their women bouncing back from two straight losses and coming from behind to account for a valiant Tannum 20-16 with centre Tiara Best bagging another double in a signature dominant all-round display.
But the Tigers, who inflicted Brothers’ first loss of the season earlier in the month before suffering a heart-breaking two-point loss to Hervey Bay, proved they are genuine contenders with a 44-4 win over Wallabies with two of their big guns, five-eighth Chantelle Douglas and second rower Cassandra Koch leading the charge with twin doubles.
In Under 18, where there continues to be nothing between the four teams, Wallaroos remain on top of an extremely tight table despite being edged out by Hervey Bay 24-20 with goal kicking clinching the Seagulls the two points after both sides scored four tries and powerhouse centre Casey Russell a match winner with two tries and two conversions.
Waves moved into third place at the expense of Wests with a 16-12 victory over them with classy halfback Sam Tobin also continuing his outstanding form including with two tries and a conversion.
In Reserve Grade, Brothers also bounced back from their loss to Easts a week earlier to overcome a half-time deficit to defeat Hervey Bay 28-16 while Roos claimed outright third position with a 26-18 win at the expense of the brave Burnett Cutters, who moved into the top five, moving ahead of Wests on nett points differential after the Panthers were mauled by cellar dwellers Waves 62-16.
Fullback Bailey Brown had a big day out, amassing 26 points with two tries and nine goals as the Tigers snapped a 10-match losing streak and salvaged a bit of pride.
PAST BROTHERS 36 (Ben Kuskey 2, Joshua Birch, Tyrell Priestley, Zak Bainbridge, Tyla Hodge tries; Zak Bainbridge 6 goals) def HERVEY BAY 6 (Jayden Johnson try; Ben Hudson goal).
WESTS 34 (Dyirun Johnson 2, Jensen Deamer, Gaige Laird, Robert Telfer, Jarrod Johnson, Joshua Johnson tries; Jake Evans 3 goals) def WAVES TIGERS 16 (Mapa Kailea, Tyrone Ward, Ross Larsen tries; Clinton Horne 2 goals).