Rugby League

License article

Facing a familiar feathered foe

Show comment

When the Brisbane Broncos run onto Brookvale Oval tomorrow night, they will be doing more than trying to break a five-week losing streak and keep their finals hopes alive.

As they take on defending NRL premiers the Manly Sea Eagles, they will craft the latest chapter in a rivalry spanning almost a quarter of a century; a rivalry as old as the Broncos themselves.

The most notable recent addition to the saga played out last September, when the eventual premiers knocked the Broncos out of the finals race.

But the hostilities date back to round 1, 1988, when the fledgling Broncos took their first uncertain steps in the New South Wales Rugby League – the biggest moment for the game in Queensland since the birth of State of Origin.

The Broncos faced derision from Sydney and resentment from sections of the Brisbane rugby league community concerned the move would undermine the local competition.

But on the field, the Broncos – brimming with State of Origin and Australian stars – were anything but uncertain.


Brisbane trounced the defending premiers 44-10 at Lang Park in front of a modest crowd of 17,000, in the process dismissing southern sentiment that a Queensland team couldn't compete in the Sydney competition.

The club's debut under such circumstances was always going to be worth much more than the competition points on offer. Foundation Broncos skipper Wally Lewis said the gravity of the day wasn't lost on the players.

“There was enormous pressure on our blokes to perform well, with a lot of people suggesting that our blokes will never make it down there,” he said.

“(Critics said) 'they're bums playing in an easy competition.' That in itself had an attraction around proving that we could (win against Sydney teams).

“But we got the chance to prove it and to watch the way they performed throughout the course of the game was very impressive and they finally proved that there was no longer the claim from certain Sydney blokes that 'Queenslanders would never make it down here'.”

Reporters were also keenly aware of the extent to which the face of rugby league was changing, with the Gold Coast-Tweed Giants also entering the NSWRL in 1988.

But with stars such as Colin Scott, Joe Kilroy, Chris Johns, Gene Miles, Allan Langer, Greg Dowling and Greg Conescu, the spotlight was squarely on Brisbane.

Lewis said the media frenzy around the game had heated up to almost unbearable levels by kick-off.

“The build-up to the game, being the very first game of the season, the journos went into overdrive and it tended to snowball the attention to the game,” he said.

“For me, the best thing that could possibly happen was to run on the field and say 'for Christ's sake, that's enough. We've had enough of this, we've told you a thousand times.'”

Symbolism of the day aside, the Wayne Bennett-coached Broncos also had to worry about a very good Sea Eagles outfit, featuring dual international Michael O'Connor; Maroons Paul Vautin and Dale Shearer; Blues stars Noel Cleal and Cliff Lyons; and 2011 premiership-winning coach Des Hasler at halfback.

The Sea Eagles had run out 18-8 winners over the Canberra Raiders in 1987 grand final and brought the bulk of that side back for their 1988 campaign.

The calibre of the opposition only added to the pressure on the Broncos, says Miles.

“That was the biggest build-up we'd had to a match in Queensland for quite some time,” he said.

“To actually run onto the field as a team in what was then the New South Wales Rugby League was a pretty big event for Queensland. And coming up against the premiers it was a huge task for our first entry into the big league.

“They had a convincing win the previous year in the grand final. There were a few name changes and positional changes, but they basically had the same premiership team.”

But spurred by a 24-point outing from lock Terry Matterson, the Broncos announced their arrival by upsetting the premiers.

It touched off a rivalry that was spurred on 15 weeks later when the Broncos went to Sydney and came away with a 28-10 victory.

The Brookvale faithful were hostile hosts in the Broncos' infancy, and the 2012 Broncos would do well to expect the same treatment tomorrow night, according to Miles.

“When we went down to play Manly at Brookvale and Wally got sent off for an elbow incident and we had to play with 12 men, they hated us,” he said.

“They hated us with a passion down there. I don't really think they wanted us in the comp.

“It's always a real intimidating place to play at Brookie. It's one of those real old boutiquie stadiums and it can get quite intimidating down there.

“The atmosphere on Friday night will be something the Broncs will thrive on. They'll certainly let them know that they're on the north shore, they're not at Suncorp Stadium.”

1 comment