High-class fullback Jayden Alberts made a stunning return from injury in the Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade major semi final on Saturday night, grabbing two tries to spearhead top seeds Past Brothers to a tough 22-16 victory over Easts Magpies at Salter Oval.
But despite Alberts’ first-half double in his first match back in 11 weeks, the Magpies led 12-10 at the break.
And whilst the Brethren reclaimed the ascendancy with a signature try to their champion hooker Brent Kuskey (also his comeback from injury), the plucky Magpies again drew level with a second superb try to their multiple premiership winning winger Billy Stefaniuk from a pin-point kick by BRL A Grade Player of the Year Matt Craven in the 65th minute.
The scores remained deadlocked until lightweight, but turbo-charged Brothers front rower Tyla Hodge dived over under the posts with three minutes remaining and goal ace Zak Bainbridge added the extras.
Easts, who were cruelled by the loss of winger Sakenasa Lalakomacuata with a serious knee injury and fullback Dylan Taylor to concussion within minutes of each other late in the first half, tried everything in their power to hit back, but Brothers’ jealously guarded their lead to the end.
The Brethren, who missed the finals last season but have only lost two games this year, will now advance to the grand final on Saturday week, while Easts will get their second chance when they meet Waves in this Saturday’s preliminary final after the Tigers kept their hopes alive.
In doing that, the defending premiers ended Wallaroos’ quest for a third straight grand final with a 42-30 minor semi final triumph over them.
Brothers coach Steve Plath said they showed real character to win against Easts.
“To give away that many penalties and piggy-back them down so many times, it took true grit and determination,” Plath said.
“Our defensive effort was great – even though we hadn’t played for three weeks, we had trained three times per week since our last game, we did the work and I knew the boys were ready and we dominated physically.
“These boys don’t stop and don’t give up – they are a special side – it was the first time since Round 1 that we have had a full-strength side and we will be better for that hit-out.
"We will need to be better again if we are going to win the grand final.”
Whilst every player really aimed up, Plath was in awe of Alberts and also singled out Hodge, Kuskey and inspirational captain and front rower Kevin Sherriff for special mention.
“Tyla made many tough carries – he is just fearless and he has a heart the size of Phar Lap,” Plath said.
“What can you say about Brent Kuskey – it was just another one of his performances – he has been out for six weeks with a dislocated wrist.
“He went to see his specialist again this week and was still not playing but he eventually got cleared and to punch out 80 minutes of that was just amazing – and Kevin is just unreal.”
By contrast, Waves always looked likely to beat Roos after opening up a 12-0 lead in better than even time.
The Maryborough side drew level in the 28th minute, but the Tigers claimed an 18-12 lead at oranges, then scored the vital first try in the second stanza through Under 18 winger Sam Tobin, who scooped up the ball from a Luke Waters chip kick and sprinted 70 metres for a spectacular game-breaker.
They went further ahead, but while the never-say-die Roos got it back to 36-30 with eight minutes left, they lost the ball on the second tackle of the ensuing set, and from their scrum win, Waves fullback Clinton Horne held the ball up perfectly to send their other Under 18 winger Lachlan Santana over in the corner.
Waves had two other players backing up from Under 18, Lachlan Madden on his Senior debut and Jai Smith, who both made their marks off the bench.
Coach Antonio Kaufusi lauded a team performance after a really disrupted week, having not been able to train on Tuesday with many players succumbing to the flu and with three-quarters of the Tigers’ players playing out of position on the night.
He said Kristian Colasimone, captain Reece Maughan and an ill Ross Larsen turned in their usual rock-solid performances but that 32-year-old life-time Tigers Rohan Gibbs and Tukerekere Hikaka, who filled in at hooker, really stepped up to the plate.
“We will take a lot of confidence out of tonight,” he said.
“I will be more confident than I was going into tonight.
“The last three games, I have had to rely on four Under 18 guys coming up to help out but next week I will have to bring up another because I think I have lost another in Sam Robinson, who has been in our halves all year.”
Brothers were also minor premiers in both Reserve Grade and the Bundaberg / Gladstone Intercity Women’s competition, but were beaten in the major semi finals of both; by Easts 34-30 in a see-sawing end-to-end duel and Tannum 32-10 respectively.
Flashy Fijian winger Paula Naidika wreaked havoc for the Magpies’ Reserves with a four-try haul, while centre Ash Docherty led the Tannum charge with a hat-trick of tries.
Brothers’ Reserves and women will regroup for their preliminary finals against minor semi final victors Wests and Waves respectively, after the Panthers’ Reserves blitzed Wallaroos 60-14 with halfback Tyson Douglas also chalking up four tries and Waves’ women outgunned Hervey Bay 16-8.
Tobin had notched a double as Under 18 minor premiers Waves came from behind to pip Wallaroos 18-16 in their major semi final, while Smith posted their other try and Santana completed their scoring with three goals including a match winning penalty with 3.42 left on the clock.
Semi final A Grade results
Past Brothers 22 (Jayden Alberts 2, Tyla Hodge, Brent Kuskey tries; Zak Bainbridge 3 goals) defeated Easts 16 (Billy Stefaniuk 2, Matt Ross tries; Matthew Craven 2 goals)
Waves 42 (Lachlan Santana, Ben Ashford, Sam Tobin, Tyrell Howard, Ross Larsen, Tukerekere Hikaka, Jamie Lowien tries; Clinton Horne 7 goals) defeated Wallaroos 30 (Luke Waters 2, Edward Booth, Brandon Law, Shaun Collins tries; Daniel Beatty 5 goals)