Former Kangaroos, Maroons and Broncos prop Greg Dowling was one of the toughest forwards of the 1980s.
He had a stellar career with Wynnum-Manly in the BRL competition before joining the Broncos in 1988.
In this Legend Q&A, first published in Rugby League Week in 2013 to celebrate 25 years of the Broncos, he shed light on the intrigue and controversy at the birth of a powerhouse club.
Greg Dowling, Q&A
How did you end up at the Broncos?
I had agreed to terms with Penrith for 1988, because the Broncos had initially offered me bugger all. They probably thought that we were all going to just follow Wally Lewis, but Penrith had made me a great offer and my wife had always wanted to go to Sydney because she had relations down there.
I wanted to stay in Brisbane because I didn’t like the rat race of Sydney. I was supposed to fly down the next morning, but Broncos co-founder Porky Morgan found out and rang me up at 3 o’clock on the Wednesday afternoon prior.
We were on about the 25th floor of the Riverside Centre tower in Brisbane and he was very persuasive. So I ended up signing with Brisbane.
When I came home and told the wife I had signed she was just about ready to divorce me, because she had her heart set on going to Sydney.
How did the Brisbane public respond to the Broncos initially in 1988?
You either loved us or you hated us. There was no in between. It was like that for a few years. There was a lot of dissension about breaking up the Brisbane competition and what it would rob from it, so it took us a while to get the public to follow us.
Winning the first six games helped turn them around. But I remember when we played Parramatta and St George at our home ground they had more supporters than us – probably two to one at least.
What are your recollections of that 1988 season?
The respect wasn’t there for Wayne Bennett in that first year. He had coached Souths in Brisbane and they were the arch-enemies of Wynnum in those days.
We felt Wayne had favoured some of the Souths guys coming into it, and that was why the confidence in him wasn’t there. At the end of the first season we all sat around the boardroom table and had it out.
There was me, Gene, Wally, Alfie (Langer), Turtle (Greg Conescu), Box (Terry Matterson), the four directors and Bennett. Boy, did we spill some blood. But that meeting changed our thinking and the club’s thinking.
I think that was the moment of truth that set the Broncos on the road to the success they’ve had since. We were a one team town and we had people lauding us all the time.
Even after a loss we’d get around town like we had won the premiership. But Wayne said we weren’t hurting about a loss like we should have been. We just accepted it.
We won our first six and everyone was asking who would beat us. But then we lost our way. That first year was very rough, but Wayne is the best coach I’ve ever had. I still have a lot of respect for him.
The Broncos won their ever first game 44-10 against Manly. Tell us about the pressure leading into that match at Lang Park?
We were up against the premiers and the pressure on us was immense. All through pre-season we knew we were going to be up against it because everyone was going to want to beat us – a team with all these Origin representatives.
There is a photo of Brett Le Man scoring the first try and me over the top of him holding my fist up. It was me saying, 'Yes, we are here.' My face is half smiling because of the relief and because I knew we weren’t going to give that game away.
We walked off the field having beaten Manly and it was a real sigh of a relief. We were scared of failure.
All of us played out of our skins because wanted to make a statement. I remember that as the game Manly prop Don McKinnon pissed on the field. I was as dirty as hell over that.
I said to our boys, 'Look at the respect he is showing us. He’s pissing on our home ground.' That was a game we weren’t going to lose. Wally led the way. We had the utmost respect for him.
You and Bryan Niebling also had a great personal challenge coming up against Phil Daley and McKinnon, one a current and the other a former NSW Origin prop?
We were always tagged as having a soft forward pack for the whole four years I was with the Broncos. It was very unjust. We weren’t as big as packs like Balmain, Penrith and Canterbury. But I always went into battle having faith in our boys.
I knew they would lift and back me up. I played State of Origin with Horse (Niebling), Brett Le Man was as tough as they come and Terry Matterson was a very underrated player. Every time I turned around, he was there.
What was it like being led by Lewis in those early days?
He was a champion leader and tough as they come. He was four steps ahead of everyone else.
On the field we’d have the odd argument. I’d say, 'What the f--- did you do that for.’ But 20 seconds later I’d be saying, 'Good kick.' He’d marshal you and talk to you. I don’t know how many times I was out on my feet and he’d whisper in my ear. I’d grow another arm and leg. That is why we were all shattered when he left
What impact did it have when Lewis was removed as captain before the 1990 season?
It was a huge shock and bigger than Ben Hur. He was the world’s greatest player. Bennett called me in and told me he was going to make me captain. But I said to him, 'There is no way I am going to be a part of this'.
I was very loyal to the King all the way through my career. Bennett said he was making the decision for the benefit of the club.
Gene (Miles) then received our backing as captain because he had our respect. But there were a lot of strained relations for a long time.
Wally was very bitter for the next 10 or 15 years. He wouldn’t go the club or walk into a function. It wasn’t until years later he was able to accept it and let it go. In those days we probably thought we were bigger than the club. But the club set the precedent of making the hard decisions. That is why they have been so successful
The expectations at the Broncos are high each year. Has that always been the case?
We were representing our state whether we liked it or not. South of the border they thought everything came out of Sydney but we wanted to show them that us Queenslanders could play the game.
The Broncos certainly don’t hold the aura they used to, but every club goes through a rebuilding period. The Broncos have always picked the best. They wanted the best coach in Bennett. They wanted the best players in Queensland, which they got. I still think they have a great recruiting set-up and that goes back to Cyril Connell who did such a wonderful job.
We used to play an attractive style of football. We never went out with a mentality to stop the opposition from scoring. It was always to score more points. In those days you had the Warren Ryan coached sides that built their game on defence, whereas we built ours on attack.
Your last year was 1991. What was the injury that finished your career?
It was a groin injury. I’d shattered my hip and didn’t know about it.
When I retired I got very sick. They put me into Mater Hospital and I nearly carked it. They picked up a shadow on my hip and thought I had cancer.
When they did an MRI they found I had shattered the rotator where the leg comes in, and it used to slip in and out. For the last two years I played with that not knowing. When my leg would slip out it would go underneath my groin and I couldn’t walk.
At training, I’d go down and be hobbling around for 10 minutes, then the leg would click back in and I’d be right. I used to cop heaps over it. People would be looking at me and wondering what was going on. I spent every two weeks up with (surgeon) Peter Myers. He still uses the x-rays now for lectures.