Brisbane Broncos

Sean Fagan of

Wally Lewis - cover of the 1989-90 NSWRL Yearbook The story of rugby league in Brisbane begins back in 1908. Over the next 80 seasons the city developed its own local club premiership that was second only to Sydney as Australia's top rugby league competition.

At times the playing standard and crowd support was at least comparable to Sydney, if not higher. A much smaller state capital than Sydney, Brisbane's support for rugby league on a per capita basis far exceeded the interest levels seen in the NSW capital.

From the 1950s onwards Brisbane clubs suffered from the drain of local talent to the cashed-up Sydney teams. Nonetheless it continued to be a strong competition.

While State of Origin was meant to allow Queensland to draw players from the Sydney clubs, many of the rising Maroon stars were from Brisbane clubs. This produced criticism from the blue-side of the border that players such as Wally Lewis, Gene Miles, Mal Meninga and others would not be able to survive the weekly grind of Sydney club football.

While this reaffirmed the southern ignorance of the playing standard in Brisbane, it gave rise to the question of the entry of a Brisbane club into the NSWRL premiership.

After plans for a Brisbane club hit the headlines in 1986, the issue became a reality in early 1987 when the NSWRL announced a Brisbane club would enter in 1988 alongside Newcastle. The winning bid though needed to have the support of the QRL who could veto the entry.

The eventual winners were the consortium led by Barry Maranta and Paul Morgan, though the process was not without its dramas. Once the key signing of Lewis was made, quickly followed by Miles, the remainder of the Queensland based Origin players came on board including Colin Scott, Greg Dowling, Bryan Niebling, Greg Conescu and Allan Langer. If not for the mid-1980s move south to Canberra of Mal Meninga, Gary Belcher, Peter Jackson and the Walters brothers the initial Brisbane side would have been instant favourites for the premiership title.

The club was announced as the Brisbane Broncos after considering the name Brumbies. The extended colours synonymous with Queensland, maroon along with gold and white, were adopted for the jersey. The red and white of Brisbane rep teams were passed over without mention as the club undoubtedly went for state wide support.

While the predominance of the gold colour in the jersey over maroon didn't please all, the playing strip had to differentiate itself from the standard Queensland jersey along with the maroon and white of the Manly club.

The Broncos secured the services of Wayne Bennett as coach, who had taken Canberra to their first Grand Final in 1987. Remarkably, in a position that sometimes has a very short tenure, Bennett has remained Broncos coach until the present.

Of any new club to enter the premiership the Broncos were in the best position ever seen. They had an established rugby league community behind them, a talented squad of players to back up Lewis and Miles, an intimidating ground in Lang Park and strong financial backing. For all that, the pressure on the coach and players must have been extreme.

In their opening trial match at Lang Park over 10,000 spectators saw the Broncos, without Lewis, outpoint Canberra 22-16. The Broncos made their premiership debut against premiers Manly at Lang Park in a much anticipated clash. In the end, it was no contest as the Brisbane club - primed for their debut - absolutely smashed the best team of 1987 winning 44-10.

It immediately gave notice to all that the Broncos were going to be a top club right from the start. The doubters suggested the Broncos couldn't be consistent, but even they were quietened by the end of the sixth game as Brisbane were still undefeated.

The critics though came out of the woodwork as Brisbane first fell to Balmain, then they were smashed 38-8 by Cronulla. By the time they came through the representative season the Broncos had fallen to the fringes of the play-offs. A ‘local derby' loss to the Gold Coast side proved fatal. The Giants were also a new club in 1988 and they included many players unwanted by the Broncos. Unable to win a game all season, the Giants stepped up to knock off the Broncos 25-22. Missing out on the two points cost Brisbane a semi-final place.

The 1989 season again saw the heavy load during the representative season take its toll on the Broncos. They won their first trophy with a win over Illawarra in the Panasonic Cup, but lost a play-off for fifth place against Cronulla. One or two more wins during the season would have positioned the Broncos for a serious assault on the Grand Final.

The 1990 Bronco season was troubled by Bennett's decision to take the captaincy away from Lewis and install Miles in his place. Miles had retired from rep football and Bennett was hoping to remove the team's reliance on Lewis. It largely worked as Brisbane finished in 3rd place without Lewis for much of the season, due to injury as much as rep duties.

Controversy reared in the semi-final victory over Manly when Bennett left Lewis on the bench. Lewis was desperate to play to prove his fitness for the upcoming Kangaroo tour. Lewis got on the field in the Final against Canberra, but not before the Raiders had the game won (32-4). Lewis soon signed with the Gold Coast.

After Brisbane missed the 1991 play-offs captain Gene Miles left for Wigan and new era began under the leadership of Allan Langer. The acquisition of power front rower Glenn Lazarus from the Canberra Raiders was pivotal to the Broncos success over the next two seasons. The forwards now comprised Lazarus, Trevor Gillmeister, Terry Matterson, Mark Hohn, Alan Cann, Gavin Allen and Kerrod Walters. The backline included Kevin Walters, Langer and the rising star of Steve Renouf.

The Broncos finished the 1992 regular season in a flourish and won the minor premiership by 6 points. It appeared the Broncos juggernaut was going to deliver the results it had promised back in 1988. Brisbane were largely untroubled by Illawarra in the major semi-final, winning 22-12 to take a place in their first ever Grand Final.

The St George and Illawarra clubs fought out a tight Final with the Dragons winning 4-0. The St George side looked as though it lacked the fire power to match the Broncos and after scores were near level at half-time, Brisbane ran away with the match 28-8. After five seasons the Broncos had taken the prize of the Sydney rugby league title back to Queensland.

Increased crowds and a sponsorship dispute with the Lang Park Trust resulted in a move to the QEII Stadium (ANZ Stadium). Brisbane had to settle for a fifth placed finish for the 1993 play-offs, requiring a rewrite of history if they were to win the premiership from outside the top three.

Brisbane Broncos - club magazine coverThe Broncos blasted Manly away 36-10, then Canberra 30-12 to reach the Final against minor premiers Canterbury. The Bulldogs edged ahead at half time by six, before Langer scored a try to level the game at 16-all. Langer then kicked a rare Bronco field goal, before Alan Cann sealed the win with a bulldozing run to the line and a Broncos 26-23 win.

Again facing St George in the Grand Final, the Broncos scored two first half tries before three penalty goals edged the Dragons to four points behind (10-6) with twenty minutes to full time. Saints were unable to break the Broncos defence and Willie Carne scored another Brisbane try to seal the win 14-6. It was back to back titles for the Brisbane club.

The Broncos were largely uninspiring in 1994, rising from the lower part of the competition table at the end of the season to grab 5th place and hopefully a repeat of 1993. They beat Manly 16-4 but fell to a North Sydney field goal in a 15-14 loss despite Wendell Sailor scoring two tries.

The Super League war arrived in 1995 and Brisbane were right to the fore of it. The disruptions through the season didn't hamper the Broncos to any great degree as they finished in third place behind Manly and Canberra. Brisbane had the advantage of a semi-final at Lang Park but lost to Canberra 14-8.

They then met Canterbury who were proving to be tough opposition at the business end of the season. Darren Smith scored a Bronco try early in the second half to place Brisbane 14-10 behind the Bulldogs. A controversial no-try ruling against an Alan Cann touchdown was quickly made worse for the Broncos when it was followed up by a Canterbury try to seal a 22-10 win.

The off-field dramas continued to plague rugby league through the 1996 season, as the Broncos made a quick exit from the play-offs losing to Norths and Cronulla. The 1997 season dawned with two competitions, with the Broncos playing in the ten team Super League competition.

Brisbane easily won the minor premiership and then smashed the Sharks to secure a spot in the Grand Final. Few expected Brisbane to be troubled in the decider against Cronulla.

An exchange of penalty goals saw the game locked up at 2-all after twenty minutes. Lockyer kicked another Bronco goal which was soon followed up by a try from the ever present Steve Renouf. The Broncos were ahead 10-2 at half-time and kicked on to win 26-8. Brisbane also won the World Club Challenge by defeating the Hunter Mariners in the Final in October 1997 in Auckland.

The NRL was formed in 1998 as the competitions merged into one. Brisbane were determined to end the criticism that their 1997 title was earned cheaply in a split competition. The Broncos secured the minor premiership ahead of 1997 ARL winners Newcastle with a better for and against.

The Broncos had played well all season despite the heavy burden of being favourites throughout. Reaching the Grand Final against Canterbury, Brisbane produced an awesome performance to take the game 38-12 to claim their fourth premiership in seven years.

Darren Lockyer football card  Through the upheavals of the most turbulent time in rugby league history, the Brisbane Broncos continued to relentlessly set the standards.

The Broncos were back in the Grand Final again in 2000 against Sydney Roosters. The game was an emotional farewell to Kevin Walters who had served the club so well. Fullback Darren Lockyer was the standout player as Brisbane did enough to keep the Roosters out of the game, eventually winning 14-6 in a dour game.

It was the Broncos fifth premiership in less than a decade, marking their 1990s team amongst the greatest in the history of the competition.

Through the first decade of the new century Brisbane continued to be ever-present in the play-offs, though 3rd-place finishes in 2004 and 2005 couldn't be converted into premiership glory.

Season 2006 seemed destined to produce the same outcome, particularly after the Broncos lost five games in succession after the Origin series, and then their opening play-offs game against the Dragons (20-4). Emphatic wins in Sydney over Newcastle (50-6) and Canterbury (37-20) put Brisbane into the Grand Final against Melbourne.

The Broncos' inconsistent form saw the Storm as warm favourites to win the first ever non-NSW Grand Final. Brisbane though kept Melbourne quiet for most of the game, edging out the Storm 15-8 to take the Queensland club to six premiership crowns.

After the 2008 season foundation coach Wayne Bennett ended his two decades long tenure with the Broncos, moving to the Dragons.


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