The 2015 NRL grand final was, for a Queenslander, one of the most epic rugby league moments.
It did not matter whether you supported Brisbane or, like me, were a diehard North Queensland supporter – the sight of two Queensland sides doing battle at Stadium Australia and trampling over New South Wales’s sacred turf looked phenomenal.
Finally, Queensland had made New South Wales admit that at least one of their teams was the best in the competition.
But then something changed.
The Broncos went off the boil, sacking “Super Coach” Wayne Bennett; the Cowboys trotted out the same plays for the next five years, and they too sacked their coach and let go of a host of now brilliant players, including Kalyn Ponga, Jahrome Hughes and Viliame Kikau.
The Gold Coast Titans, perennial underachievers, began to have limited success.
So, what happened to the Queensland sides?
As was documented in a recent article by BenchWarmer, which laid out the big issues in retention with the Cowboys and the Broncos, player retention is a big problem.
The Broncos let go of Sam Walker and Reece Walsh this year and both have become stars for their new sides.
The Cowboys, well, their lack of player retention has been well-documented.
The second thing that happened at both clubs is poor coaching decisions. The Broncos lost a full year of development under Anthony Seibold and the issues run deeper than just his coaching performance alone.
The Cowboys held onto Paul Green probably one and a half seasons longer than they should have, and that has hampered their growth now.
The Gold Coast Titans, on the other hand, have bought well, retained local juniors and have discovered new stars who have done exceptionally well for them. Only now are questions beginning to be asked of Justin Holbrook’s coaching style.
More than that, the problem with Queensland’s two oldest rugby league sides is that they have lost their identity.
It began with the Broncos when they hired Anthony Seibold.
Seibold is a good coach, and his ways proved popular with the Rabbitohs, but he struggled to adapt his coaching style to the Broncos’ way of doing things.
Paul Green began by laying down the law, but he relied on his senior players to enforce it. Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott were rightfully co-captains and enforced his culture well.
However, once Scott suffered his career-ending injury and JT retired, Green seemed bereft of ideas and players to enforce the club’s culture.
They targeted Todd Carney and recruited Ben Barba and neither would have enhanced the club’s reputation.
Jordan McLean, an enforcer in Melbourne, has largely been missing in action in his Cowboys stint. Jason Taumalolo, a destructive player, is too much of a nice guy off the field to enforce culture.
Despite these missteps, there is a new hope for both sides.
Kevin Walters is a good coach who is working against a system that is against him. His success with the Maroons speaks volumes of his ability to inspire and lead teams back from the brink.
If Walters has a supportive board and free rein to sign and develop the players he wants playing for him, the Broncos should do well.
Admittedly, questions remain about his judgement over Walsh, Walker and Tom Dearden, but he seems to see hope in the remainder of his players to play well for them. What Walters has tried to do is to instil the old-style Broncos values into his players, with limited success.
Todd Payten has a ‘take no prisoners’ approach with the players and holds everybody, including himself, responsible for what happens on the field.
His refreshing honesty and accountability before the players and the media has helped to turn the club around.
Young players need accountability and honesty from their coaches and they need to know that the coach supports them.
Scott Drinkwater has the potential to be a very good five-eighth for the club and with Jason Taumalolo, Valentine Holmes and Reece Robson in the mix, the Cowboys have some good leaders for the foreseeable future.
Payten’s culture of accountability and honesty with everybody has helped the players rise to the occasion and, for now, at least, the Cowboys are the best of the Queensland sides (in terms of ladder position).
Culture is a big part of the way Queenslanders play their football. After all, playing for Queensland in Origin and emulating the likes of Thurston, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith has been the dream for most young Queenslanders.
With Walters, Payten and Holbrook helming their respective clubs, there is hope, even without relying on Obi-Wan Kenobi to save them.
Instilling values into football players takes time, and Walters and Payten in particular need time to instil those values.