The great Wally Lewis wearing the inaugural colours of the Brisbane Broncos in their debut season in 1988 Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
It was 1988, Australia’s Bicentenary. A quarter of a century ago and Brisbane was transformed into the happiest place on earth. The mind-boggling World Fair called Expo erupted into an international party that lasted for six months in the Queensland capital. Across the river the landmark Fitzgerald Inquiry was being played out, exposing the sleazy side of the Sunshine State. Cream buns cost only 30 cents at my primary school tuckshop.
And something else marvellous happened.
The Broncos were born.
Twenty-five years ago one of Australia’s most iconic sporting clubs started a rugby league legacy that would echo around Lang Park for an eon. Piggybacked off Queensland’s success in the infancy of State of Origin, the Australian Rugby League granted Queensland a licence and the Brisbane Broncos were in business. Since then, the mighty maroon-and-yellow jumper has become one of the most popular and successful franchises in the game. The Broncos have won six precious premierships, two World Club Challenges and have bravely never been beaten in a Grand Final.
The roll call at Red Hill boasts an embarrassment of riches: ‘The King’ Wally Lewis; Darren Lockyer; Allan Langer; Gordon Tallis; Gene Miles; Steve Renouf; the Walters brothers; Shane Webcke and Petero Civoniceva among many, many others. They carried not just Brisbane’s hopes, but all of the banana benders from north of the Tweed right up to the Tip. Also, they were serenaded as ‘Simply the Best’ by sexy soulstress with a wild mane Tina Turner. If there is a better backing track to rugby league then I haven’t heard it.
So this Saturday night, the city of Brisbane will celebrate the Broncos’ 25-year Anniversary (yes, they DO count the Super League season). Unfortunately the party will have to do its best to ignore that fact that the club is experiencing one of the toughest times on the field. The traditional dry rounds where the Broncos suffer from the ‘Origin Effect’ have seen the side slip to 13th on the ladder. Five straight losses on the road and now relying on the Suncorp faithful to carry them home against Cronulla on Friday night.
But some clubs have the knack of rising above poor performances and retaining an untarnished aura. The Rabbitohs are the comeback kings. Souths are Australian rugby league’s most successful club of all time with 20 premierships since their inception in 1908, but haven’t had any success at the big dance since 1971. With a herculean, Greg Inglis-like fend, the Bunnies came back from the brink of extinction to now sit proudly on top of the ladder. Sure there were wooden spoons, court battles and a Gladiator with deep passion and even deeper pockets along the way... but ultimately South Sydney remain one of the oldest and most cherished clubs. Just take a stroll through downtown Redfern, the Rabbitohs’ colours of cardinal red and myrtle green are splashed everywhere.
Even rugby league newcomers the Gold Coast Titans (nee Chargers, nee Seagulls, nee Gladiators, nee Tweed Giants) have retained a certain flashy image. Sprung from league’s loins in 1988, the Gold Coast have suffered a spluttering, stop-start history. It was almost like the Coast was cursed. While their big brothers up the highway were winning. Premierships... the Coast boys were fighting for the basics like a home ground, sponsorship and general survival. But today, in spite of recent financial dramas, the Titans enjoy some of the best attendance rates in the game and remain a destination for some of the competition’s most decorated representative players.
So while the Broncos are set to celebrate a stirling Silver Anniversary, they will be sure to make a fuss of not just the legends who founded the rugby league powerhouse, but also the blokes who are in charge of making sure it continues.
Reliving the fabled history of the Broncos is almost enough to make you want to wish it was 1988 again, lining up for hours for a glimpse inside Expo’s international pavilions, singing along to Robert Palmer’s ‘Simply Irresistible’ and scoffing cream buns from the tuckshop.