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From powerhouse club to wooden spooners: The Brisbane Broncos' demise is complete

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Roar Guru
24th September, 2020
13

And just like that, the Brisbane Broncos’ season from hell is finally over.

The club entered this season full of hope and expectation despite having their 2019 season ended in a then-record 58-0 humiliation at the hands of the Parramatta Eels at Bankwest Stadium in the first round of the finals.

Many thought that they would heed a lesson or two from that finals thrashing as they sought to end the club’s longest premiership drought, which has sadly now extended into a 14th season.

All appeared to go well when the Broncos won their opening two matches of the season against the Cowboys and Rabbitohs, with the former match being the first-ever to be played at the new North Queensland Stadium.

Suddenly, everyone’s lives were turned upside down as the coronavirus pandemic started to peak in Australia. Certain measures such as social distancing, state border closures and government-implemented lockdowns then caused the NRL season to be paused.

As the spread of the virus slowed down, plans were then put into place to resume the season on Thursday May 28, with the Broncos and Parramatta Eels given the honour of restarting proceedings at Suncorp Stadium.

Interest and intrigue surrounded this match as it was to be the first time the two sides faced each other since the aforementioned elimination final the previous year.

The result remained the same, with the Eels winning 34-6 – and so began the Broncos’ dramatic slide into oblivion.

But nobody could have anticipated the worse that was to come seven nights later, when the Broncos faced two-time defending premiers the Sydney Roosters, whose reigning Dally M Medallist James Tedesco didn’t turn up after waking up on the morning of the match with a fever.

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What unfolded at Suncorp Stadium that night was a performance of embarrassment and humiliation as the six-time premiers suffered a 59-0 defeat – just one point more than the 58-0 thrashing they copped against the Eels the previous September.

Brisbane Broncos players look dejected

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Had Tedesco played in that match for the Roosters, chances are the margin could’ve been so much worse. Still, it exposed the gulf between a side that was rebuilding on the run and one that had won the previous two titles.

It also marked the first time the Broncos had ever been held scoreless at either Suncorp Stadium or QEII Stadium (the ground they used while the former was undergoing a massive redevelopment at the turn of the century).

It wasn’t, however, the first time they’d been blanked on Queensland soil, having been kept to a duck egg on two occasions by the Cowboys in Townsville, in 2004 and 2012.

Afterwards, Channel Nine commentator Andrew Johns was particularly scathing of the Broncos’ performance saying that it was “soft”, while Paul Vautin chimed in saying it was “pathetic”.

The Broncos then appeared to turn a corner when they led the Sea Eagles 18-0 in the first half at Central Coast Stadium in Round 5, only to then cough up the final 20 points to lose the match 20-18.

Another loss on the Central Coast followed, to the Knights seven nights later, before they copped it from their fans after another embarrassing display at home against the Gold Coast Titans in Round 7.

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They trailed 22-0 at halftime, after which they were booed off by their own supporters in what was the first match at Suncorp Stadium whereby fans were permitted to attend since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared as such in March.

Queensland’s successful efforts in slowing the spread of coronavirus allowed fans back into sporting stadiums sooner than anyone expected, with the initial forecast being that they would have been locked out of major events for up to (or at least) six months.

So much so, former Broncos legend Justin Hodges, now a commentator for Fox League, said it was the first time he’d heard his team being booed off at halftime.

After a 26-16 loss to the Warriors, the Broncos then registered their third (and last) win for the season when they led from start to finish to defeat the last-placed Canterbury-Bankstowm Bulldogs 26-8 at home.

It was easily their best performance of the season, but it was followed up the next week by yet another humiliating defeat, this time a 48-0 thumping at the hands of the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval.

As the pressure continued to build on second-year coach Anthony Seibold, it was eventually agreed upon between him and club management that he would step down as coach in August, receiving a million-dollar payout in the process.

His last game wound up being a 28-10 loss to the South Sydney Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium; coincidentally, that match saw Jason Demetriou make his coaching debut for the Bunnies after Wayne Bennett was stood down for a COVID-19 breach.

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Assistant coach Peter Gentle then took the reins for the remainder of the year, but he wouldn’t be able to register a win in his seven games in charge, coming closest when they lost 28-24 to St George Illawarra in what was Darius Boyd’s 200th club game for the Broncos.

The club then limped to the finish line, eventually slumping to the bottom of the ladder after losing to the Eels at Bankwest Stadium 26-12, 24 hours after the then-last-placed Bulldogs upset the Rabbitohs 26-16 in Round 19.

They still had one final chance to avoid finishing last for the first time in club history, coming up against the Cowboys – one of only three teams they beat this season – in Boyd’s 337th and final NRL game at Suncorp Stadium.

The Broncos started well, scoring the first two tries inside the first 12 minutes, the second of them to Boyd, before disaster struck when NSW Origin hopeful Kotoni Staggs suffered a serious knee injury that could see him sidelined until next June.

Staggs’ injury proved to be the turning point as the Cowboys turned the match on its head, scoring three tries (and being denied a certain try of the year contender when Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow was pinged for being offside) to lead 16-12 at halftime.

Corey Oates scored for the Broncos to level proceedings midway through the second half, but that would be as good as it got for them as the Cowboys scored the final three tries to win 32-16 and therefore sentence the Broncos to their first-ever wooden spoon.

For the northerners, it was the perfect farewell gift for Gavin Cooper, who bowed out after over 300 NRL games which included the 2015 premiership win and captaining the side to the 2017 grand final when both Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston were out injured.

Not so for Darius Boyd, who bowed out as the final remaining survivor from the Broncos’ most recent premiership team, which came in his debut year of 2006.

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That 2006 side was arguably one of the best premiership-winning sides of the modern era, fielding household names such as Justin Hodges, Darren Lockyer, Shaun Berrigan, Shane Webcke, Petero Civoniceva, Dane Carlaw, Sam Thaiday and Corey Parker.

Boyd bows out having also won a premiership with the Dragons in 2010, in which he was named Clive Churchill Medallist, and featuring in the Queensland State of Origin side that so ruthlessly dominated State of Origin between 2006 and 2017 inclusive (sans 2014).

It’s hard to believe that the Brisbane Broncos, a club that was so used to featuring at the pointy end of the season on a regular basis and winning premierships, could be as low as they are right now.

The club’s sixth and most recent title came in their 19th season. 14 long seasons without another title have now passed since then and it’s hard to see when the club’s seventh title will come.

And after the epic failure that was the Anthony Seibold tenure, with which came the publicity following his sensational sole season as Rabbitohs coach in 2018, the club is now on the lookout for its next permanent coach.

Anthony Seibold

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

It’s been reported that the role has come down to a two-horse race between 2015 Cowboys premiership-winning mentor Paul Green and 2000 Broncos premiership-winning captain and incumbent Maroons coach Kevin Walters.

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But if what this season has taught us anything from a Brisbane Broncos perspective, then it’s very clear that whoever gets the gig will have a mountain of work to do in restoring the club’s powerhouse status.

There is also a massive hoodoo against the Broncos, and all clubs for that matter, with no club having gone from worst to best in such a short space of time since the Western Suburbs Magpies went from wooden spooners in 1933 to premiers just 12 months later.

More recently, the Penrith Panthers finished last in 2001, yet by 2003 they’d be on top of the premiership dais, while the Roosters went from wooden spooners in 2009 to grand finalists in 2010, only to be beaten by the Dragons in the summit match.

Thus, do not expect any miracles from the Brisbane Broncos as they look to put their worst ever season in club history behind them next year.

But it’s not all doom and gloom for the club, with their women’s side being the two-time defending premiers in the NRL women’s premiership, as such, they will be chasing a hat-trick of titles this year.

They won’t, however, be the premiership favourites this year, with that honour bestowed on the talent-and-star-studded St George Illawarra Dragons, who will have inaugural captain Sam Bremner back after missing last season due to pregnancy.

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The side’s centre pairing of Isabelle Kelly and Jessica Sergis – two of the best players in the women’s game – also have the potential to wreak havoc on the other three sides in the competition.

And there’s still some hope for Brisbane sporting fans of some premiership success this year, with the AFL’s Brisbane Lions to embark on its second consecutive finals series when they face Richmond in the second qualifying final at the Gabba – the exact same fixture as last year – next Friday night.

Should the Lions go on to win this year’s AFL flag, it would be a reverse of what happened in 1998, whereby the Broncos, a dominant club in Australian rugby league, won the NRL title, while the Lions, in their second year as a merged entity, claimed the wooden spoon in the AFL.

Their chances of winning the flag – which would be its first since they notably claimed a hat-trick of flags between 2001-03 – is boosted by the fact this year’s AFL grand final will be played at the Gabba, with the MCG ruled out due to a state-wide lockdown in Victoria.

And that’s exactly what Brisbane sporting fans will be hoping for next month after their NRL side suffered endless embarrassment and humiliation on its way to a maiden wooden spoon.