Substitute Viliame Ketenalagi bagged a double as East Bundaberg Pythons completed a dominant season, strangling defending champions West Barbarians 34-10 in the Rugby Bundaberg Bundy Hot Gas Spring Cup Grand Final at Waves Sports Complex.
The Pythons had finished on top of the ladder with six wins and two narrow losses from their eight home and away matches, but they were relegated to second behind Barbarians when stripped of points due to their accumulation of yellow and red cards.
They then outgunned Fraser Coast Mariners 12-5 in the 2v3 Semi-final, while Barbarians outclassed fourth seeds Waves Falcons 38-3.
Barbarians had prevailed 15-13 in their first clash of the season with Pythons on 22 October, but while Pythons turned the tables 23-14 in the last round, many had expected another epic duel, although East Bundaberg Coach and Club President Zak Menhennett was always confident they would prove too strong.
“I said at the start that the real grand final was the week before with us v Mariners – they were the best attacking team in the comp and we were the best defensive team, and our defence won us both the semi and grand final, but we also scored five tries, which made it pretty comprehensive,” Zak said.
“It was even better after the week before, after we kicked every goal, we left our kicking tee on the bench and when we came back for it, I think someone from Barbars on the bench took it, so we made one out of a $2 water bottle filled with dirt, but it made no difference.”
Electrifying fullback Sakiusa Dreunimolea, who has been among the points all season, was again their biggest contributor in the decider with 14.
Zak said Viliame usually starts the game, but this time, he began the game on the bench because he had had a “big week of work and was real tired and had to eat something” before running out in the centres and cutting loose.
He also said everyone contributed in a robust team performance, led brilliantly by Captain and Scrum Half Tyson Douglas, who was also again superb for Wests Panthers in this year’s Bundaberg Rugby League (BRL) A Grade Premiership, Sakiusa, Viliame, and another centre Joe (Josateki Masibalavu) whom he also described as “very good”.
Zak said that awesome foursome had also been outstanding all season, along with second rower Kinni Qereqeretabua, Tight-head Prop Peni Vakaduadua, Bennett Otineru, “when he was not injured”, and Left Winger Delroy Tanner, whom he said “really stepped up this year”.
Delroy and many of the Fijian cohort also starred for Easts Magpies in the BRL.
Zak, who was Club President and Assistant Coach last year, said most of the team are Fijians, who are on five-year Farm Work Visas, including powerhouse Loose-head Prop Iski Pongi, who also runs some of the training sessions.
“Iski is also a big part of communications with the Islanders – and most of them are from the same village, and Kinni was chief of the village but lives in Bundaberg now, and Uncle Israel Peni is 80 or so now, but we won a premiership together with Turtles and is also a local now, and my family is close to Kinni’s family, hence the connection,” he said.
The premiership completed a rags to riches comeback for the Pythons, who were formed in 2016 and won the title in 2018, before losing the Grand Final to Mariners in 2019.
They were then forced to withdraw from the competition in 2020, returning last season, doing it tough for most of their campaign and ultimately missing the finals when relegated from fourth and fifth and last, again due to loss of premiership points due to penalties for yellow and red card infringements.
“The club had to have one year off in 2020 after we lost all our sponsorships due to Covid, then after missing out all together last year due to cards, this is pretty special,” Zak said.
“We thank all our sponsors Growth Gyms, Bundy Brakes, Tyreright and East Bundaberg Sports Club, and we should have all our players back next season as they are on their first year of their Five-Year Visas, plus a few extras who went to other clubs this year but regret that they did not stay with Pythons and will be back.”
EAST BUNDABERG PYTHONS 34 (Viliame Ketenalagi 2, Joseva Ramanu, Sakiusa Dreunimolea, Moape Tuinuku Tries; Dreunimolea 3 Conversions & Penalty Goal) d WEST BARBARIANS 10 (Kamini Lelenga Try, Andrew Filo Conversion & Penalty Goal).
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