The Broncos secured an NRLW threepeat against the Roosters- but not without drama!
This Friday night, the Brisbane Broncos and Melbourne Storm will renew hostilities in a rivalry which is one of the most celebrated in the National Rugby League.
The reason for this is primarily due to the number of blockbuster matches the clubs have contested, and the large number of Queensland Origin players both clubs have supplied over the past decade.
The latter has contributed largely to the Maroons winning ten of the last eleven Origin series dating back to 2006. That was also the year in which they met in the first ever grand final not to feature a team from New South Wales.
Ahead of their clash at Suncorp Stadium this Friday night, let’s take the time to look back at what was a watershed moment for rugby league in Australia.
Every grand final since 1908 had featured at least one team from New South Wales, but it wasn’t until 1987 that an out-of-town team would feature in the game’s biggest showpiece.
That year, the Canberra Raiders, co-coached by Wayne Bennett and Don Furner, reached the decider in just their sixth season of existence, going down to the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 18-8.
Just two years later they would indeed become the first non-Sydney team to win the premiership when they defeated Balmain 19-14 in one of the most thrilling grand finals in history, rivalled only by last year’s equally-as-nail-biting grand final between the Broncos and the Cowboys.
It was Bennett’s first taste of coaching in the NSWRL before he became the inaugural coach of the Brisbane Broncos ahead of their entry into the competition in 1988.
The success he enjoyed in his only season at the Raiders would carry on into his stint as Broncos coach, and by 1992 they’d become premiers in just their fifth season of existence, becoming the first team to take the premiership trophy north for the first time in the process.
They would win a further five titles, their latest in 2006 at the expense of a Melbourne Storm side which were later found to have breached the NRL’s salary cap.
After the Broncos had defeated the Bulldogs 37-20 in the preliminary final (coming from 20-6 down at half-time in the process to do so), it was left to the Dragons to keep alive a 98-year streak of a Sydney team featuring in the grand final.
To do so they had to overcome a Melbourne Storm team which had finished on top of the ladder and owned a dominant record against the Dragons, winning their previous four meetings, as well as their grand final match-up in 1999.
Unfortunately the Storm would win their preliminary final match 24-10 to set up the first non-Sydney NRL grand final in history, and the biggest burning question entering the decider would be just how many people would turn up.
In the end, 79,609 fans would turn up to see the Broncos and Storm attempt to keep their perfect grand final records (5/5 and 1/1 respectively) intact. To date it remains the lowest attendance for an NRL grand final since it moved to Stadium Australia (later Telstra Stadium and now ANZ Stadium) in 1999.
Most, if not all, of those in attendance had travelled from Brisbane and Melbourne to see their teams face off in the decider, “raiding” the traditional home of rugby league in the process.
Though the Broncos were the more experienced when it came to premiership experience (by contrast, Matt Geyer was the only survivor from the Storm’s 1999 premiership team), and found form late in the season, the Storm, on the back of their dominant form all season, entered the title match as the favourites.
The first half would be a close affair with each team scoring one try each, though Darren Lockyer’s accuracy at goal would see the Broncos take an 8-4 lead into half-time.
Soon after the resumption of play, Matt King would score a try for the Storm to level the scores at 8-all, and with regular goalkicker Cameron Smith suffering an apparent leg injury, it would be left to Matt Geyer to take the conversion attempt.
Geyer would miss the conversion attempt and the Storm would not add to their total, with Smith’s injury severely restricting them in the match that mattered the most.
The Broncos would later run away with it thanks to a try to Brent Tate with over fifteen minutes remaining, and after the Storm had a try disallowed shortly after due to a forward pass, Lockyer would hammer the final nail into the Storm’s coffin with a field goal with seven minutes remaining to take the Broncos out to a 15-8 lead.
Eventually the Broncos would hold on to win their sixth premiership, keeping their perfect grand final record intact in the process, with hooker Shaun Berrigan winning the Clive Churchill Medal for being best-on-ground.
On the other hand, the Storm were left to ponder what could have been, especially after they’d dominated the regular season. Had Cameron Smith not been hindered by a leg injury, then who knows what could’ve happened.
Coach Wayne Bennett also kept intact his perfect grand final record, which he’d extend to seven from seven after coaching the Dragons to the premiership in 2010 before returning to the Broncos for the 2015 season via an unsuccessful three-year stint as Knights coach.
With the impending retirement of Corey Parker at the end of this season, only Darius Boyd and Sam Thaiday will remain from the 2006 premiership winning team by the time the 2017 NRL season kicks off.
Since that glorious first day of October in 2006, the Broncos would not taste premiership success again and as of this season are currently enduring their longest premiership drought.
In the intervention, Bennett would leave the club for the aforementioned three-year stints at the Dragons and Knights, leaving control of the Broncos at the hands of Ivan Henjak (2009-10) and Anthony Griffin (2011-14).
The best result the Broncos would achieve under either Henjak or Griffin would be a preliminary final in 2009 and 2011 respectively, both lost to the eventual premiers the Melbourne Storm and Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (the Storm later had its 2009 title stripped for salary cap breaches).
In 2014, despite the highly-anticipated acquisition of Ben Barba, the board lost patience with Griffin and he was given his marching orders, clearing the decks for Wayne Bennett (and Darius Boyd) to return to the club.
One of Bennett’s first moves upon his return to Red Hill would be to release Ben Barba after just one season; the former Dally M Medallist has since moved back to Sydney and is starring for the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks this season.
On the field, the Broncos would achieve a top-two finish at the end of the regular season for the first time since 2000, and reach the grand final for the first time in nine years, only to lose to the Cowboys in golden point extra time.
That was the closest the club has gone to breaking its long premiership drought, and after Ben Hunt had cost them the title after knocking on at the start of the golden point period, many suggested that the heartbreaking grand final defeat would mentally affect the club going forward.
But if anything, it has reinvigorated the club and just over the halfway mark of the season they are up there as some of the premiership favourites along with ladder leaders the Sharks and their opponents this Friday night, the Melbourne Storm.
Craig Bellamy’s men have, every year since they won their second premiership in 2012, continued to prove their detractors wrong by remaining in the upper echelon of the ladder and will enter this weekend’s match placed second on the ladder.
In the absence of injured veteran Billy Slater, rookie Cameron Munster has excelled in the fullback position and has been seen as a potential replacement for his elder teammate in the Maroons’ number one guernsey in the very near future.
His match-up with Broncos veteran Darius Boyd promises to be one of intrigue, as well as those between Ben Hunt and Cooper Cronk, the forwards and of course the master coaches of these two great clubs.
With both clubs in good form this season, don’t be surprised to see them once again face off at the business end of the year, maybe even perhaps in the big dance again like they did in 2006.
In the meantime, come this Friday night we can only sit back and enjoy the latest installment in the rivalry between two of the biggest non-Sydney clubs in the NRL.