Retiring Broncos captain Justin Hodges with fans following the club's grand final loss.

Heartbroken Broncos get heroes' welcome

The easier option was to stay at home.

With the temperature gauge pushing up into the mid-30s and with the pain of their team's grand final defeat less than 12 hours old, Broncos fans could have stayed at home and no one would have thought ill of them.

The last day of the school holidays could be spent countless other ways yet here they were, the venerators of the vanquished, standing on the field where their idols had honed their skills for the previous seven months to try and somehow soften a blow they will never truly recover from.

Inspirational forward Corey Parker said the Broncos faithful "had no right to be there" given the dramatic way in which their premiership dream became a nightmare but as much as anyone he also knew deep down they would be there no matter what.

As they waited patiently for their heroes to return home youngsters were encouraged to try and do a Corey Parker offload like it was a party trick he conjured for the first time at his 30th birthday while the volunteers from Wests Panthers worked the sausage sizzle like contestants on MasterChef.

The scenes were far more jubilant some 2,700 kilometres to the north but that in no way diminished the admiration shown for Broncos players who despite having little rest presented respectfully in team polo shirts and happily signed autographs and posed for photos.

"There's a great spirit in the team here and we're extremely proud of their efforts," coach Wayne Bennett said in his address to the fans gathered at his feet.

"I know you've been proud of what they've done, you've supported us great this year.

"It's going to start again in another five months time and with your support and these guys trying hard every week who knows what we can do next year."

In his final act as club captain Justin Hodges urged members and fans to stand behind the playing group heading into next season and "look after them" as they try to transform grand final heartbreak into a seventh premiership.

"These lads standing up here before you, they represented the club with great pride last night," Hodges said.

"We're sorry we couldn't get the win for you guys but make sure you stand proud of these boys and come back next year and look after them.

"For me it's been one of the greatest honours of my life, to be captain of this club that I love dearly. It's up there with having my child.

"It's a club that I love and hopefully these boys can turn it around next year and go one better."

Hodges and Sam Thaiday were the last two players remaining as the team made their way around half the football field, halfback Ben Hunt buoyed by the fans' reaction after one of the toughest nights of his young career.

Jack Reed's right arm was in a sling after he bravely battled on for the majority of the second half in discomfort and players such as Adam Blair sought solace in their family, the smiling faces of sons and daughters serving as a welcome distraction from the opportunity that had just eluded them.

It will take time to get over and there will be occasions of 'what ifs' over summer that will gnaw away at the subconscious but with Bennett at the helm and fire in the belly, you can bet the fans will be right behind them, whatever the future brings.

Match report: Thurston kicks Cowboys to premiership
NRL Grand Final: Five key points
Cowboys player ratings
Broncos player ratings
Match highlights
Magic Moment: Feldt's late, late try
Magic Moment: Thurston wins it
WATCH: Winning skippers' speech
WATCH: Hodges' post-game speech