Brisbane players drew inspiration from the club’s 2002 Baby Broncos team to deliver the “bravest” win of Anthony Seibold’s coaching career at Points Bet on Sunday.
The 2002 Broncos, who were coached by assistant Craig Bellamy as Wayne Bennett was preparing Queensland for State of Origin, stunned Wests Tigers at Campbelltown with six debutants in the team and Seibold’s side pulled off a similar feat to upset Cronulla 24-22.
With 10 players unavailable, including Origin stars Matt Gillett, Corey Oates, David Fifita and Joe Ofahengaue, the Broncos fielded arguably the least experienced team in the club’s 32 seasons and they lost rookie halfback Sean O’Sullivan (hamstring) and centre Gehamat Shibasaki (compound dislocated finger).
Hooker Andrew McCullough moved to the halves, where he had last played in his debut against the Sharks in 2008, and he partnered Jake Turpin, who transitioned to the dummy half role when he was 16 years old but started at five-eighth due to absence of Anthony Milford.
“We had a bit of a joke about it at halftime,” Turpin said. “We both said we never thought that would happen but let’s just go out there and play footy.”
McCullough said he hadn’t trained in the halves for more than a decade but “kept it pretty simple” and “hung around the ball”.
Match Highlights: Sharks v Broncos
The 29-year-old is one of the few players in the youthful Brisbane team old enough to remember watching the original Baby Broncos team but comparisons were being made in the dressing room after full-time.
“That was the type of fighting spirit the Baby Broncos had when I was growing up,” Turpin said. “I think I was about six years old so I don’t really remember it but people always talk about the Baby Broncos.”
McCullough said: “I don’t know how much this game resembled that but it would be close”.
The Broncos fielded 10 players who had played 13 or fewer NRL matches against the Sharks, including three debutants – wingers Xavier Coates and Herbie Farnworth, and interchange forward Keenan Palasia.
There had been tears at Brisbane’s jersey presentation on Saturday, with forward Rhys Kennedy also making his Broncos debut after two NRL appearances for South Sydney.
“It was emotional, I have been part of a fair few and I was in tears too,” Seibold said. “Sometimes as a coach you get caught up in wins and losses but it was a great reminder to me of how special it is to see young men achieve their dream of playing in the NRL.”
Asked if it was the best win of his NRL coaching career, Seibold said: “The bravest, considering who we had out. With all due respect, we were down to the bare bones with Origin and that, so I am proud of the boys”.
Seibold said the Baby Broncos had been mentioned briefly in the lead up to the match but comparisons were being discussed openly in the Brisbane change room after Turpin snatched victory with a try five minutes before full-time.
Pangai produces the pass of the season to set up Turpin
“One of the long-time directors Tony Joseph and Peter Nolan, who has been at the club for a long time, and [CEO] Paul White just spoke about that,” Seibold said.
“I mentioned to the players after the game that hopefully in 15 or 18 years time they will be talking about this Baby Broncos side. I think the Sharks had 1000 more NRL games than us.
“I don’ t think there has been any younger or less experienced than this one. Losing our halfback at halftime and Gehamat in the second half caused a bit of chaos for us but they just kept hanging in there and I am really proud of them.
“We ended up with three hookers on the field, I am not sure if many teams have done that.”
With O’Sullivan and Shibasaki set to be sidelined for several weeks, Seibold may have to call on some more rookies for next Saturday night’s match against the Warriors at Suncorp Stadium