By Vince Habermann
Injuries and unavailability forced a wholesale overhaul of Past Brothers’ back-line for their Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade Premiership major semi-final showdown with minor premiers Easts at Salter Oval on Saturday, and the Magpies fully capitalised with their highly potent and established combination running amok in a 38-16 victory.
From their side, which had ambushed Wests Panthers 30-16 in the qualifying final one week earlier, the Brethren were without their star centres Klinton Beer and Jake Thompson, and premiership halfback Taylar Barritt, with vastly experienced club president Mat Templeman and Dan Finter coming into the centres, and Ben Schrader moving from the wing into the No. 7.
They all did their best, but their new combinations were predictably clunky at key moments, and the Magpies’ electrifying three-quarters Andreas Nona and Trent Seeds, cut them loose with three and two tries respectively to lead the charge, while winger Billy Stefaniuk and halfback Tyrell Howard each picked up one four-pointer, along with hooker Arden Lankowski, who gave his usual polished service.
Dual BRL A Grade player of the year and captain Matt Craven missed out on a try, but he was always the pumping heart of the Easts attack, while crafty dual premiership-winning and A Grade player of the year Clinton Horne was also always dangerous in attack and a fortress in defence.
Easts had lost their previous two games, including a 38-22 defeat at the hands of Brothers in the penultimate round, ending an eight-match winning streak, before also being edged out by Wests in the last round.
But they returned to their brilliant best and now, they are straight through to the grand final on Sunday week (August 29), when they will attempt to break a 16-year club drought.
Brothers will get their last chance to keep their title defence alive when they meet Hervey Bay in the preliminary final this Saturday.
The Seagulls, who placed fourth on the ladder, before coming back from the brink of defeat to outgun Waves Tigers in extra-time in the elimination final, are now just one win away from a grand final berth after shocking the Panthers in a six tries to four triumph.
Their rock solid pack again laid the platform, with Anthony Gray, Slayde Johnson, Dion Bunyan, Travis Baumann and Isaac Mielczarek all scoring, along with mercurial playmaker Logona Vetemotu, who has been there through the tough times since their last premiership of 2016.
It was a good day all around for the Seagulls in the minor semi-finals, as they also thrashed the Magpies 44-6 in Reserve Grade with halfback Ben Hudson amassing 20 points with two tries and six conversions, and Brothers 36-16 in the under 18 clash.
But Wests’ A Grade exit capped a disappointing day for the Panthers, who were also beaten in the under 18 and Reserve Grade major semis by Wallaroos in both, 40-0 and 30-22 respectively.
Major Semi Final
Easts Magpies 38 defeated Past Brothers 16
Minor Semi Final:
Hervey Bay Seagulls 34 defeated Wests Panthers 22