Direct passage to the grand final will be the prize when minor premiers Easts Magpies meet arch-rivals and reigning champions Past Brothers in the Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade Premiership major semi-final at Salter Oval on Saturday, at 5.20pm.
Earlier, at 3.40pm, Wests Panthers and Hervey Bay Seagulls will be playing for survival when they square off in the minor semi-final.
Easts won eight matches in a row before being brought back to earth by the Brethren in a 38-22 wake-up call in the penultimate round on July 17, before also losing to the Panthers 22-20 in the last round.
They have since been buoyed with their mercurial captain Matt Craven taking out the BRL A Grade player of the year award for the second season in a row, but apart from being on a two-match losing streak, Brothers will have the advantage over them in match fitness in their first game for three weeks.
The Brethren have the advantage of having played a tough qualifying final last Saturday and putting it all together in a 30-16 victory against a Panthers side which admittedly was missing three of their biggest guns in livewire halfback and BRL rookie of the year Marcus Tanner and powerhouse forwards Dan Tanner and Lachlan Patterson.
Craven is a nephew and former protégé of Brothers’ master coach Andrew Hamilton, and both love plotting each other’s side’s downfall.
While adding further to the inter-club rivalry, the Magpies’ first-year coach is Brent Kuskey, who played starring roles in a string of Brothers premierships as a player, including in the previous season, 2019.
His team also includes several other former Brothers stars.
The Tanner duo and Patterson will all return for the Panthers, and they will be warm favourites to bounce back, even though the Seagulls plucked them in their first two meetings this season, before Wests were best in a 26-18 victory when they last crossed swords a month ago.
On paper, Wests look to have too many guns, but Hervey Bay also have a very good side, although they will need to improve after being on the brink of elimination last week against Waves Tigers when they trailed by 10 points with nine minutes to go, before scoring two late tries, the second with 39 seconds remaining to level the scores, then surging home 34-26 in extra-time.