The last-round clash with hosts Waves Tigers in the blazing sun on Sunday was always going to be challenging for Wallaroos when they travelled from Maryborough with just 14 players for their Bundaberg Rugby League under 18 match.
It got even tougher when they were reduced to 12 men after 20 minutes with two succumbing to injuries, including powerhouse captain and front rower Keian Grogan.
The Tigers, who have battled hard all season with limited numbers, turned it on in a bid to finish their season on a high and reward themselves and their fans.
They led twice in the second half with hooker Joel Cox bagging a hat-trick of tries and kicking two goals in an awesome all-round performance, but Roos found a way to win, getting to the front when it mattered and hanging on 26-20 against a team that was magnificent in defeat.
Wallaroos coach Shaun Hobson was “really proud of (his) whole group and (their) willingness to stay in the fight”.
“Hooker Bailey Eckert was strong, back rower Ethan Ballard was great, as was half Jordan Kemble, and centre Lochlan Greenfield was outstanding,” Hobson said.
“The middle forwards Seth Laherty, Kyjelt Varley and Bryce Hobson all played the whole game which is courageous for lads well in excess of 100kgs on what was a really, really hot day.”
Grogan also lauded his team-mates.
“Two definite stand-outs were fullback Tom Colvin, who was not familiar to the position before this year but has made it his own, and halfback Jordy (Kemble) was really good too – he took control when he needed to and sits back when he needs too, like good halves do, and the whole forward pack also really stepped up,” Grogan said.
Grogan was confident of being able to overcome his injury and take his place in the semi-final against Hervey Bay Seagulls, who will host the game this Saturday despite finishing third on the ladder and Roos placing second.
“It was a pretty awkward tackle – I rolled my ankle pretty bad a few weeks ago and I rolled it again and sat out the rest of the game, but it is not as bad as what it was last time which is good – I will be as cautious as possible, ice it and rest as much as possible before the finals because I don’t want to make it any worse,” Grogan said.
“Last time it was 10 times worse and I should be right for the full 60 minutes if he (Hobson) wants me to.”
Grogan was confident of beating them again after downing them 30-18 in Round 3 and 28-14 in Round 6, and drawing 6-6 with them when they last met two weeks ago, which was also Seagulls’ last game as they forfeited to minor premiers Wests Panthers on Saturday.
“I don’t want to sound cocky – they have got a half decent side and they drew with us last time which was a good game and they could give us a run for the money, but in the last month or so, we have come in a lot closer as a side, like enjoying each other’s company at training and playing the game and off the field,” Grogan said.
“Everyone is turning up for each other – that’s been obvious in our last few games, especially defensively – like against Waves, when we finished with 12, but still got across the line – we just kept turning up.”
Hobson also believed they were peaking at the right time.
“I am extremely happy heading into the finals game and have total belief in our group and what we are capable of – we have had to fight hard in every game of the year and this game will be no different,” Hobson said.
Grogan was born in Dalby, but his family moved to the Heritage City when he was just six months old and he has played all his football there, although he did successfully trial with the Central Queensland Capras last September and he moved to Rockhampton in January, only to have to return home when COVID-19 struck.
The 18-year-old, who has worked this year in a manual position for a local hiring service, has kept in regular contact with the Capras and hopes to rejoin them for next season to play in their Colts’ team.
“But there are other options down south as well – I would naturally love to eventually play at the highest level,” Grogan said.
In the younger age groups, the multi-talented Toby Collins bagged five tries as Brothers clinched the under-13 minor premiership with a 30-10 demolition of Wests Panthers on Sunday.
The Brethren also claimed the Under-14 minor title with fullback Blake Powter notching a double in a 22-14 triumph over Waves Tigers in their top-of-the-table showdown.
Bundaberg Grizzlies and Hervey Bay picked up the under-16 and under-15 minor premierships restively.
Wests Panthers d Hervey Bay Seagulls on forfeit
Wallaroos 26 (Tom Colvin, Jonah MacDonald, Bailey Eckart, Keian Grogan, Ethan Ballard tries; Tom Colvin 3 goals) d Waves Tigers 20 (Joel Cox 3, Jackson Paul tries; Joel Cox 2 goals).
Points: Wests 18, Wallaroos 13, Hervey Bay 7, Waves Tigers 2.
Brothers 46 (Mitchell Allen 2, Chandler Richardson, Kayne Mitchell, Flynn Hodge, Izac Pointon, Lane Cross-Price, Fletcher Ace, Bradley Shorter tries; Fletcher Ace 2, Kayne Mitchell, Brayden Sander, Lane Crossley-Price goals) d Wallaroos 20 (Bailey Mills 2, Liam Doolan, Kyle Knight tries; Nathan Jacobsen, Noah Dawson goals).
Points: Bundaberg Grizzlies 18, Hervey Bay 9, Wallaroos 8, Brothers 5.
Hervey Bay Seagulls 56 (Dane Blanke 2, Kade Raspor, Eli Bailey-Ward, Kyal Pitchford, Tyson Connon, Robert Borsboom, Harry Armstrong, Jonty Brien tries; Jonty Brien 5, Eden Wheeler 3 goals) d Wests Panthers 12 (Lincoln Dwyer, Ryan Bugeja tries; Ryan Bugeja 2 goals).
Brothers 54 (Ethan Brennan 2, Ben Toft 2, Jack Picaro 2, Matthew Smith 2, Zander Evans, Ezekiel Monckton, Ben McLaughlin tries; Ezekiel Monckton 5, Owen Nash goals) d Easts Magpies 16 (Jack Frohloff, Ricky Druce, Coen Searl tries; Coen Searl, Joseph Mimi goals).
Points: Hervey Bay 18, Wests 12, Brothers 10, Easts 0.
Wests Panthers 26 (Cooper Black 2, Kacy Blackburn, Brody Lake tries; Lucas Brough 3 goals) d Hervey Bay Seagulls 20 (Noah Douglas-Denduck 2, Boedie Dwight, Jamall Nelson tries; Boedie Dwight 2 goals).
Brothers 22 (Blake Powter 2, Joseph Doyle, Jack Schmidt tries; Dawson Hess 3 goals) d Waves Tigers 14 (Tom Morcom, Coen Philips, Sebastyn Brennan tries; Sebastyn Brennan goal).
Points: Brothers 18, Waves Tigers 14, Wests 4, Hervey Bay 2.
Hervey Bay Seagulls 50 (Braidan Houliston 3, Cooper Fitzgerald, Michael Parsgaard tries; 7 goals) d Easts Magpies 0.
Waves Tigers 20 (Hayden Ferguson 2, Jimmy Gear, Preston Walsh tries; Jack Howarth, Jimmy Gear goals) d Wallaroos 10 (Joe Franklin try; Lachlan Nitschinsk goal).
Brothers 30 (Toby Collins 5, Zachary Stephenson, Levi Monckton tries; Jomar Gustilo goal) d Wests Panthers 10 (Xavier Stanley, Johnathon Coyne tries; Darnell Saunders goal).
Points: Brothers 18, Hervey Bay 16, Waves Tigers 14, Easts 6, Wallaroos 4, Wests 2.
Main image: Wallaroos hooker Bailey Eckart confronts the Waves Tigers defence in their under-18 clash on Sunday. Photo: supplied