Mercurial veteran fullback Clinton Horne produced a signature superb all-round performance, including scoring a try and kicking a conversion as Waves Tigers qualified for Bundaberg's all-important showdown with a tough 15-4 preliminary final victory over Easts Magpies at Salter Oval on Saturday night.
Rookie Under 18 wingers Lachlan Santana and Sam Tobin also continued their try scoring heroics in top grade, with the former taking his haul to four in three matches since making his A Grade debut in the qualifying final and the latter crossing the line for the second week in a row.
Easts had beaten Waves 14-12 in the qualifying final before being edged out by minor premiers Past Brothers 22-16 in an also epic major semi final and they had a try disallowed before again being first to score through vintage veteran journeyman centre Danny Moran in the 24th minute.
But that was to be their only joy of the night as Waves levelled the ledger through Santana three minutes later, then took the lead courtesy of Horne’s four-pointer 10 minutes into the second stanza.
The Magpies were gifted a golden opportunity to pounce when the Tigers’ recent spate of sin bins continued with halfback Tyrell Howard banished in the 61st minute, but their defence galvanised and they protected their line, including after Easts declined a penalty kick from in front of the posts one minute on but bungled it from the tap restart.
It was Waves who did most of the attacking during that 10-minute period and after having a try disallowed a minute earlier, the super-efficient Tobin scored a superb try and Horne added the extras seconds before Howard’s return.
Down by 10 points, Easts went agonisingly close to hitting back when they chased through on a kick to the in goal with 4.34 remaining, but it was not to be their night, and Howard, a former Easts junior, put the icing on Waves’ cake with a sweetly taken field goal two minutes from the end.
Waves now advance to their third grand final in four years since former Test, State of Origin and NRL star Antonio Kaufusi returned home, took the coaching reins and set about rebuilding the whipping boys of the previous eight years.
However, for Easts, it is now nine years for the proud BRL foundation club since their last A Grade grand final appearance and 14 since their last premiership.
Kaufusi said he was really proud of his youthful side, especially after all the chopping and changing to the team over the last five weeks.
“Clinton Horne was fantastic how he got us out of the boxes, Tyrell (Howard) just competed hard as he always does, and Sam Robinson, as well, and the boys Sam Tobin and Lachlan Santana scored again and were brilliant,” Kaufusi said.
“Then there is the old heads like Gibbsy (Rohan Gibbs) – this club is built on the culture of bringing kids on like them, and he is a great role model.
“Our defence won us the game – when Tyrell was sin-binned, all the other boys stood tall, but we know we will have to rise to another level next week.
“I am happy for the boys that this is my third grand final in four years – you don’t get to do that often and it will be a special week and we will get down to business again and go through how we want to play against Brothers.”
Waves will have just eight survivors from last year’s grand final team and Brothers will probably be favourites after winning both of their clashes this season, 32-4 back on April 27 and 18-14 on June 22.
The Brethren will be chasing their sixth premiership this decade after holding the trophy aloft three years in a row from 2010-12 then again in 2015 and 2017, and they also triumphed 32-12 when they last met Waves in the decider 17 long years ago.
In other grades
In Reserve Grade, Wests, who scraped into fifth position on the ladder, knocked out minor premiers Brothers 22-14.
Hervey Bay will get the chance to go one better than their Under 18 grand final drubbing by Wests last year when they meet Waves in the decider after edging out Wallaroos 24-22 in the preliminary final.
Even though powerhouse lock William Kluck bagged a double, Tshone Dixon was the one to get them home with a penalty goal two minutes from the end.
In the Bundaberg / Gladstone Intercity Women’s League, Brothers bounced back from their major semi final demolition by Tannum to outgun Waves 30-18 with a hat-trick of tries to their prolific scoring centre Tiara Best and a double to livewire fullback Zara Johnson-Gamia, who also dazzled against her team of last season.
Tannum will host the women’s decider in Gladstone, with just three grand finals on the program at Salter Oval program, which will kick off at 12pm with the annual Under 16 Indigenous All Stars v Bundaberg All Stars showcase, followed by the Under 18s at 1.15pm, Reserve Grade at 2.45pm and A Grade at 4.30pm.
A Grade preliminary final result
Waves 15 (Lachlan Santana, Clinton Horne, Sam Tobin tries; Clinton Horne goal; Tyrell Howard field goal) defeated Easts 4 (Danny Moran try)