Brisbane seeks to dodge the Brookvale curse
Fortress Brookvale... Only three teams have beaten Manly at home this season. Photo: Wolter Peeters
What Brookvale Oval's grandstands lack in magnitude, their ornery occupants make up for with menace.
It's a fact of which the Brisbane Broncos will be acutely aware on Friday night when they travel to Sydney's northern beaches to try to prise two critical competition points from the Manly Sea Eagles in front of some of the NRL's most passionate fans.
The defending premiers have sucked all the fun out of a Brookie road trip this season, compiling an 8-3 record on their way to becoming premiership favourites.
Indeed, the only teams to win at Brookvale in 2012 have been the ladder-leading Canterbury Bulldogs and Melbourne Storm, as well as the Gold Coast Titans, who sprung an upset in round 7.
The Broncos have little choice but to join that intimate group if they want to cement a spot in the finals.
They're locked with Wests Tigers and Canberra Raiders on 26 competition points in the battle for the final two spots in the top eight.
Any slip in their final two regular-season games could make them September spectators for the second time in three seasons.
The good news for Brisbane is they have found ways to dodge the Brookvale curse, escaping as winners twice in their past four visits since 2005.
The bad news is that the Sea Eagles will have a top-two spot and a home final in their sights as they close out the home and away season.
Even though the NRL has deemed Brookvale an unsuitable venue for finals football - forcing the Sea Eagles to play finals “home games” south of the river - finishing in the top two would ensure Manly avoid a horror trip to Melbourne to face the Storm.
And with so much on the line, the Broncos are bracing for the Sea Eagles faithful to be in full voice.
Having watched the Sea Eagles put 38 points on the Newcastle Knights in 40 minutes at Brookvale on Sunday, returning Broncos utility Alex Glenn isn't underestimating the form of Manly on the field, or in the stands.
“Manly had a great win last week and it's going to be a great test down there at Brookvale Oval,” he said.
“Their supporters are very strong and [the Sea Eagles] always turn up for their fans down there as well.”
Glenn returns from two weeks on the sidelines with a hamstring injury. He'll be hoping to add to his club-leading 11 tries for the season and one man trying to run him down will be winger Gerard Beale, who has nine four-pointers to his name.
Beale will step onto Brookvale for the first time, but he said he hoped to turn the expected hostile reception to his advantage on Friday night.
“I haven't played there, so I'm actually looking forward to it,” he said.
“It's got that local park feeling. Manly have strong supporters down there and I guess that can help us lift against the crowd.”
Workhorse hooker Andrew McCullough says he will take a different tact and try to ignore the vitriol expected to be laid on thick by the maroon and white army.
“If you can get in the game nice and early, that shuts the crowd out, so we can't let that worry us,” he said.
“We haven't got ourselves right for five weeks, so if we get that right, the rest takes care of itself.”
Perhaps McCullough has been preparing for this game for three weeks. He's certainly been getting involved early and often, racking up 168 tackles in topping the count in each of his past three outings.
But the Broncos know they will have more than the crowd to worry about.
Crowd favourite Brett Stewart made three line breaks on his way to 135m and two tries against the Knights, and the Broncos will be wary of him sniffing around the fringes of the ruck looking for a tear in the defensive line.
Glenn, who will likely find himself in the second row, said the Blues fullback had figured in the Broncos' preparations this week.
“We definitely focused in on Stewart,” he said.
“They love running those short-side plays. So we're making sure we've got our numbers right on that short side and the inside players are working hard for our outside backs.
“It's going to be a big job for the edge forwards, making sure we are name dropping Stewart wherever he is on the field.”