The last round of Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade Premiership on Saturday showcased two two-point thrillers - the Hervey Bay Seagulls clinching the fifth-placed finals berth at the expense of Wests Panthers with a 30-28 victory over them at Salter Oval.
Reigning champions Waves Tigers also prevailed by the same margin against Easts Magpies 22-20 in their qualifying final dress rehearsal to draw the curtain on fixtures in the game that followed.
At Eskdale Park, beaten grand finalists of the past two seasons, Wallaroos, who had recorded one draw and six losses from their previous seven outings, made a stunning return to form, ambushing minor premiers Past Brothers 38-16.
But perhaps the biggest highlight of the round was two father-son combinations featuring in the action.
Allan and Tyson Miller played major roles as starting forwards for the Seagulls, and David Richardson, 38, came into the Brethren's top grade side as a last-minute replacement, backing up from Reserve Grade where he has made a comeback after many years this season and played the last 10 minutes along-side his 19-year-old son and winger Mitchell.
Tough as teak front rower stalwart Allan Miller, also 38, avoided the dreaded end of season “nudie run” when he scored his first A Grade try in his seventh match in 2019 – a crucial four-pointer in the 53rd minute with the Panthers reduced to 12 men following the sin binning of halfback Josh Johnson.
It was dynamic Seagulls 20-year-old lock Travin Baumann who laid the platform by scoring the first two tries of the match in the first nine minutes, and from there, they were never headed in a pulsating end-to-end duel.
Main Photo: Tiko Hooper and Travin Baumann both bagged doubles as the Seagulls pipped the Panthers to qualify for the finals
Johnson’s younger brother Jarrod kick-started the Panthers with tries in the 17th and 27th minutes, but the Seagulls re-established control at 18-10 with a try to high-quality 19-year-old hooker Tiko Hooper and conversion to gun fullback Logona Vetemotu on the stroke of the break.
Papua New Guinean Under 18 sensation Livingstone Lingawa gave Wests a dream start to the second stanza with a signature try 95 seconds in, but Johnson’s 10-minute sentence ultimately proved costly, even though Hervey Bay scored only once during his absence and the Panthers again got back to within two points with 17 minutes left on the clock.
The Baysiders edged further ahead again with Hooper’s second try and Vetemotu’s fifth goal in the 69th minute, and while Wests again narrowed the gap to two with Ray Zysk’s try with 30 seconds to go, there was to be no Panthers miracle in the last nine seconds.
The Seagulls celebrated an amazing achievement after not beating any side other than minnows Maryborough Brothers in the first three months of the season, while the Panthers were left to ponder what may have been.
Despite Baumann and Hooper’s heroics, 23-year-old loyal and inspirational front rower and captain Steven Dwyer was player of the match and drew lavish praise from coach Faiupu Sami for an absolutely outstanding all-round performance.
But Sami said the whole 17 played very well, including with Tyson Miller, 19, producing his usual rock-solid performance in the second row.
“Everyone showed up and the boys just wanted it more – no one expected us to be in the semi’s but I’m happy and proud of the boys, and it is a different ball game now – we are a young side but the boys have got the belief now that they can beat anyone,” Sami said.
There are no matches this weekend with the focus on the Bundaberg Rugby League Awards Dinner on Friday night, with finals to get under way on Saturday week.
Hervey Bay are set to meet Wallaroos in the elimination match, and Sami is certain they can win again even though they will be without the class, experience and muscle of Dwyer, who will be attending a wedding that day.
The Tigers v Magpies showdown also went right down to the wire with multiple premiership-winning centre Sekope Tua bagging a double for the former.
Waves led 10-0 after 26 minutes, but Easts drew level in the 33rd minute with back-to-back tries and the two heavyweights went to oranges level-pegging at 10-10.
The Tigers roared again to establish a 12-point buffer in the 58th minute, but the never-say-die Magpies got it back to within two points with 10 minutes remaining, and they had a few more great chances to win the match in the dying minutes, but Waves’ defended for their lives to hold on.
By their victory, Waves clinched second place, but the game again proved that there is nothing between the two sides and they are set for another titanic duel in the qualifying final.
Brothers were again without three of their biggest guns in Brent Kuskey, Zak Bainbridge and Josh Birch, but nothing could be taken away from Roos, who returned to their brilliant best, signalling their re-emergence as a genuine contender since the return of champion halfback Luke Waters from a four-month injury enforced lay-off a week earlier.
His comeback has allowed their highly potent Shaun Collins and Brandon Law to be reunited in the centres, and they wreaked havoc with two tries each, while Daniel Beatty came off the bench to rack up 18 points with a pair of tries and five goals.
In Under 18s, Waves, who had trailed the four-team field for most of the season, amazingly claimed the minor premiership, beating an 11-man Seagulls 46-22 with halfback Sam Tobin cutting loose with four tries.
A Wallaroos triumph in the other match in Maryborough would have won them top spot but they were held to a 20-20 draw by Wests.
In the Women’s competition, centre Tiara Best bagged another double in minor premiers Brothers’ 16-8 despatch of Hervey Bay in their top of the table match-up but they lost their best player for the season in the process with Nicole Curtis suffering a serious knee injury.
Tannum leapfrogged Hervey Bay into second place with a 26-0 shutout of Wallabys, while Waves continued their late season surge with a 34-4 demolition of wooden-spooners Valleys Roosters.
Easts were also beaten by two points in Reserve Grade, going down to last-placed Waves 32-30 but retained second place on the ladder behind Brothers.
Round 16 A Grade Results
Wallaroos 38 (Brandon Law 2, Shaun Collins 2, Daniel Beatty 2, Josiah Alberts tries; Daniel Beatty 5 goals) defeated Past Brothers 16 (Ned Thompson, Tien Nguyen, Kevin Sherriff, Hayden Golchert tries)
Hervey Bay 30 (Tiko Hooper 2, Travin Baumann 2, Allan Miller tries; Logona Vetemotu 5 goals) defeated Wests 28 (Jarrod Johnson 2, Livingstone Lingawa, Willie Nagas, Raymond Zysk tries; Josh Tanner 4 goals)
Waves Tigers 22 (Sekope Tua 2, Arden Lankowaski, Tyrell Howard tries; Clinton Horne 3 goals) defeated Easts 20 (Dylan Taylor, Tim Cole, Paula Naidika, Billy Stefaniuk tries; Matthew Craven 2 goals)