Pocket dynamo halfback and talented all-rounder Brendan Grills and interchange front rower Isaiah Bullard both notched doubles as Wests Panthers purred to a 46-6 win over reigning premiers Hervey Bay Seagulls at Salter Oval as the curtain finally raised on the Bundaberg Junior Rugby League (BJRL) season at the weekend.
With the Bundaberg Rugby League cancelling their season due to COVID-19, the under 18 competition has been able to come under the BJRL banner, and the teams relished being in the spotlight as the highest competition grade in the Rum City in 2020.
Considering they had only been allowed to train as a team for less than a month, the Panthers were remarkably well-drilled and efficient, and only a long-range intercept try by Seagulls half Heath Peel in the dying minutes prevented Wests from keep a clean sheet.
Grills, who had an outstanding 2019-20 cricket season in A grade and was an integral member of the Wide Bay team which won the Queensland open schoolboys title in Bundaberg in March, was ready to rumble in his return to football after having a season off the club scene.
“It's really good to be back," Grills said.
“It was a bit of a worry that we wouldn’t get the season in due to COVID-19, and we had only been able to train for three or four weeks, and we didn’t expect that sort of score at all to be honest.
"But even when we could have only 10 people at training, the forwards and backs would go to training on different days, so we were well prepared.
“Hervey Bay are still a good team, but in the first half, our coach (Rick McMaster) told us we completed 19 of 20 sets and overall completed 31 of 35, which is pretty good.”
The team was well led by co-captains, prolific scoring centre Jensen Deamer and crafty hooker Joel Baldwin, and the Panthers will certainly benefit from Deamer being able to focus all his energies on just one game each week after last year doubling up to A grade after having played in the under 18 competition every week.
In a polished and robust team performance, Grills said Baldwin drove the forwards and Deamer was part of a potent back line.
“(Five-eighth) Brad Clark as well was good, along with (second rower) Kynan Hard and Marcus Tanner went pretty well at fullback and Isaiah was pretty good too to be fair,” he said.
Grills, who started his career with the club at the age of six and played for them throughout his junior days, including being a vital cog in their premierships every year from under 11 through to under 16, said it was also great to be back playing among friends.
“Me, Joel, Jensen and Marcus came all the way through together, Kynan and Connor Black were a year younger, but they won lots of finals as well and Flynn Purkis played for us in three of those grand finals,” Grills said.
Grills was not the only “comeback kid” in the side.
“Eddie Mackie is back after a few years off footy, Isaiah played for Waves last year, and Damon Qualischefski used to play for Waves, but moved to Roma three years ago," Grills said.
"With their competition cancelled, he’s really good mates with some of the boys and he travels from Roma and back every week to play."
Last year’s beaten under 18 grand finalists Waves Tigers also started their season with a loss, being edged out by Wallaroos 18-16 at Eskdale Park on Saturday with centre Tyson Allen bagging a double for the Maryborough side.
However, he was shaded for the player of the match award by domineering five-eighth Jordan Kemble, while another of their try scorers blockbusting front rower Keian Grogan was similarly a stand-out.
Tigers co-captain and powerhouse forward Matt Nejman also crossed for two tries.
The two first-round winners will battle it out at Salter Oval this Sunday after the Seagulls host the Tigers at Stafford Park on Saturday.
Grills said it “will be a good competition” and that in the shortened season, they are keen to stamp their mark by getting the hop on Roos this week.
“We know Waves have got a good team and if Wallaroos beat them, they are another good team, so we will see how we go against them – we’ve only won one game and we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves,” Grills said.
There were also some good contests throughout the younger age divisions last weekend and one of the stars was powerhouse centre Ethan Brennan who ran amok with four tries to spearhead Brothers to a 56-16 triumph over Easts Magpies in the under 15 division.
Bundaberg Junior Rugby League round 1 results
Wallaroos 18 (Tyson Allen 2, Kynan Watson, Keian Grogan tries; Tom Colvin goal) def Waves Tigers 16 (Matt Nejman 2, Jackson Lee tries; Joel Cox 2 goals)
Wests Panthers 46 (Brendan Grills 2, Isaiah Bullard 2, Lochlan Modrow, Jensen Deamer, Joel Baldwin, Flynn Purkis, Damon Qualischefski tries; Joel Baldwin 4, Marcus Tanner goals) def Hervey Bay Seagulls 6 (Heath Peel try, David Woodbridge goal).
Bundaberg Grizzlies 18 (Zander Kerr 2, Trey Kerr, Harrison Brough tries; Zander Kerr goal) def Hervey Bay Seagulls 12 (Darnell Murray, Michael Cross, Harry Arms)
Wallaroos 36 (Justin Sinnett 2, Kyle Knight 2, Cooper Burke, Lucas Kemble tries; Noah Dawson 6 goals) def Brothers 14 (Kayne Mitchell, Bradley Shorter tries; Wil Simmons goal).
Brothers 56 (Ethan Brennan 4, Mitchell Sly 2, Ben Toft, Ezekiel Monckton, Jack Picaro, Izak Cochrane tries; Ezekiel Monckton 7, Cooper Herwig goals) def Easts Magpies 16 (Jason Smith, Konna Hussey, Junior Tuitoma tries; Junior Tuitoma 2 goals)
Hervey Bay Seagulls 30 (Eden Wheeler 2, Jai Ward, Jake Doyle, Harry Armstrong tries; Jonty Brien 3, Eden Wheeler 2 goals) def Wests 14 (Hobie Gala, Ryan Bugeja, Axle Lange tries; Ryan Bugeja goal).
Wests Panthers 36 (Cooper Black 3, Ezekiel Bullard 2, Lucas Brough, Kacy Blackburn tries; Daniel Jones 2, Lucas Brough 2 goals) def Hervey Bay Seagulls 4 (Noah Douglas-Denduck try)
Waves Tigers 24 def Brothers 8 (Jett Maher, Blake Powter tries).
Brothers 16 (Jomar Gustilo, Levi Monckton, Toby Collins tries; Jomar Gustilo 2 goals) def Hervey Bay Seagulls 12 (Charlie Roberts, Tatem Henke tries; Michael Parsgaard 2 goals)
Wests Panthers 18 (Riley Modrow, Brody Lake, Johnathon Coyne tries; Darnell Saunders 3 goals) drew Wallaroos 18 (Kohan Wallace 2, Joe Franklin, Devyn MacDonald tries; Lachlan Nitschinsk goal)
Waves Tigers 28 (Preston Walsh 2, Locklyn Morgan, Brody Allan tries; Brody Allan goal) def Easts Magpies 18
Main image: Wests hooker Joel Baldwin makes a signature break on the way to a try in their under 18 win over Hervey Bay Seagulls on Sunday.