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'The A-Rey signing for Brisbane is huge': What it's like to be a Broncos fan

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Expert
24th January, 2022
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When the Brisbane Broncos were founded in 1988, league fans in NSW were not happy about having a team from Queensland in their competition. And the club expected that.

What they weren’t ready for was the lack of support from their own.

The loyal fans of the Brisbane Rugby League, with teams like Valleys, Wynnum and Redcliffe, were angry that their best players were being taken away and many refused to get behind the new franchise.

But with stars like Gene Miles, Terry Matterson, Wally Lewis and of course super coach Wayne Bennett, after a few seasons the love for the team grew in Queensland – as well as interstate.

Wally Lewis brings the ball up for Queensland.

Wally Lewis (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

Their maiden premiership in 1992 all but sealed it. They had a huge fan-base and cemented their spot in the competition.

Six grand final wins and two World Club Challenge titles later, the team had earned super-club status. They were synonymous with success – and Friday night games. The Broncos could pack a stadium no matter who they were playing, would always be in the mix come finals time and were one of the most successful clubs – both on and off the field.

But Bennett drama, boardroom conflict, and embarrassing score lines turned their world upside down.

The past few seasons have seen the Broncos sink to lows that no one thought possible, even adding a wooden spoon to their trophy cabinet.

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Fans were angry, some burnt their jerseys and refused to support the club ever again.

Others stayed loyal and will always be behind their team.

I spoke to two of those supporters, Blake and Zyra.

“I used to watch the footy with my dad,” Zyra began, “I remember sitting on the couch with him watching Friday night footy, and the State of Origin games. He was a huge Raiders fan, and absolutely loved Mal Meninga, so technically I was a Raiders fan by default.

“But then when I got old enough to decide for myself, I fell in love with the Broncos, probably because most of the Queensland Origin team comprised of the Broncos at the time.”

Blake added, “I’ve followed them since I can remember, I’m not sure why, I lived in Mackay around 1994 and the Cowboys hadn’t entered the ARL, so the Brisbane Broncos were the team to follow. Or maybe it was because I was five at the time and liked horses.”

I asked what the best and worst part about being a Broncos fan was.

“I usually try to get to as many games as possible and find when I’m there I am still star struck by the players like when I was a kid,” Blake said.

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“Worst part for me is living in Wollongong and not being able to get to Suncorp stadium regularly.”

Zyra said, “The best and worst part about being a Broncos fan would have to be our fans. We can be brutal when the team loses, it is awful to see. I am guilty of being an emotional fan too. I can let flow a cocktail combo of expletives without blinking, I am really surprised no one has ever called the police on me when I watch games. I really need to learn to calm down.

“But for all the bad, we also have some of the most amazing fans. They’re generous, and it’s just so good to see so many others have the same passion for the club. Some of my closest friendships started because of our mutual love for the Broncos. These are friends that I will have for life. I have the Broncos to thank for that.”

A question with an obvious answer – how happy are the fans having Adam Reynolds join the side, and what do they think he bring to the team?

“On a scale of one to ten, I am sitting at about 100,” Zyra laughed.

“It’s the most hopeful I have been for an upcoming season in a long time. He is a natural leader on and off the field. We have so many young guns coming through, and they will benefit from his leadership. He has a strong kicking game and is consistent. I can see him taking control of our games – we have really missed those elements in the past few seasons.”

Adam Reynolds

(Photo by Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“The ‘A-Rey’ signing for Brisbane is huge” Blake added. “Definitely a top-three halfback in the comp and extremely underrated by fans – including me once. He will bring a good fifth-tackle option, which Brisbane haven’t seen for a while and hopefully some quality ball for players like Kotoni Staggs.”

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Along with Reynolds, there are some great players joining the club this season. Which other new recruit are they excited about?

“I am really looking forward to seeing Ryan James play in our colours,” Zyra replied. “Our forward pack is big and tough, but young. I think he will be a great influence and mentor for them. James is experienced, he doesn’t come with on-field or off-field drama. He is just a solid, level-headed and experienced forward, and we really need that kind of influence for young forwards.”

For Blake, it’s Kurt Capewell:

“He won’t bust 12 tackles and throw 16 offloads in 20 minutes like Tevita Pangai Jr, but he won’t miss a tackle, give away silly penalties and he will make all the one per cent plays, unlike TPJ.”

The once-successful and rock-solid club have had well-publicised dramas within the boardroom and the coaching staff, and the team have produced un-Broncos like results on the field the past few seasons. So has the club moved past it all to be back on track?

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“I hope so” Blake replied. “The new chief executive officer, Dave Donaghy, has already impressed and can hopefully only go forward from here.”

“I hope we have,” Zyra agreed. “I don’t want to get too hopeful because the last couple of years have been really hard watch. It was almost weekly that you’d think, ‘surely we can’t get worse’, or ‘surely there’s no more dirty laundry to hit the headlines’, but sure enough, we seemed to find a way.

“And it was really disappointing to watch because you’d never think the club would be that way. It just wasn’t the Broncos. It was like we’d become a Sydney club – no offence to Sydney clubs.”

Speaking of dirty laundry hitting the headlines, Anthony Milford had a massive public fall from grace. I asked what they thought went wrong, and how they felt about him finishing up with the Broncos.

“I have to fight back tears when talking about my boy Milf leaving,” admitted Blake. “So many great memories. I don’t know where it went wrong for him. I hope he turns it around and can still compete at a high level. Anthony Milford is one of the few players that have left the Broncos and I will still support and enjoy watching.”

Anthony Milford

Anthony Milford (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

“His position at the club became untenable,” Zyra responded. “He was our million-dollar man in a key position, and we weren’t getting the results. The media coverage on him was relentless. I couldn’t imagine being under that kind of pressure and scrutiny.

“I think our grand final loss in 2015 hit a lot of our players hard, and although we made the semis in 2016, we really hit the skids after that.

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“He had a few injuries that sidelined him, and I think he lost a bit of his confidence. But the pressure stayed because of the money he was on. He’s a confidence player; when he is on his game, he is so good to watch, but when his head dropped from a poorly weighted kick or mistake, you knew you weren’t going to be in for a good time after that.

“I really liked Milford; I still do. He was polite and patient, taking photos with fans who were waiting after a game, and considerate – he once helped a good friend when she was on crutches.

“His recent off-field drama was disappointing to see, I had hoped that although he was leaving us, he would have the opportunity to play good footy again at the Rabbitohs. That is looking unlikely now, unfortunately.”

I was interested if they thought Kevin Walters is the right man to coach the Broncos.

“Kevy is the man for the job”, Blake answered confidently. “He might not be a Craig Bellamy or Trent Robinson, but he knows the Broncos and knows what works for them.”

Zyra is trying to be optimistic. “I’d like to think that with key changes in our roster, and key changes in the administrative side, Walters has what he needs to get us winning games in 2022. I think the excuses are gone now, so this year is the year that we will really be able to judge if he is the right man for the Broncos. I am hopeful and I would like success for him, because it means success for us too.”

I asked who their favourite past and present Broncos players were.

For Zyra, her past favourite is Darren Lockyer. “Being behind on the scoreboard didn’t matter if Lockyer was playing because you had confidence that he would make the right play and get the team back in it. He was a leader and players wanted to play for him. Games were always exciting to watch. I am still obsessed with 2006 Locky.

“My favourite current Bronco has got to be Payne Haas. Every game he turns up and gets the job done. No fuss or drama, he just goes on the field and does his thing. He inspires his teammates on his performance alone. I hope that this year our other forwards give him the support he needs.”

Blake agreed, his favourite right now is also Haas, but struggled to name just one from the past.

“It’s too hard to pick. Can I give you a top five? Lockyer, Shane Webcke, Gorden Tallis, Sam Thaiday and Matt Gillett. No, that’s still not enough – can I do a top 50 past players list?”

Payne Haas of the Broncos

Payne Haas of the Broncos (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

What were the fans most looking forward to for this season and who did they expect big things from?

“I’m just looking forward with no expectations,” Blake explained. “I will be paying close attention to young guys like Selwyn Cobbo and Brendan Piakura and a few big players like Staggs and Tesi Niu.”

Zyra also think Niu is one to watch.

“We got to see some great things from him last season. He was exciting to watch at fullback and did well under pressure and under the high ball. I think with a solid pre-season and confidence from last season, we will hopefully see big things from Tesi.

“I am looking forward to the end of our halves merry-go-round. I am also hopeful of being able to see a live game. Living in Perth, we organised to see a game last season, but Covid scuttled that.”

And, as always, if they could say anything to the team, what would it be?

Zyra was motivational: “2022 is the year where every game has to matter. Grind it out when it gets tough. Play with pride and play with heart – the results will come.”

Blake gave the boys a new tactic to try: “Everyone just pretend you’re Payne Haas out there.”

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From a team that struggled to have their locals support them to a successful club loved across the country. A powerhouse that lost its way, but whose fans believe can now turn it around.

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