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What happened to the Queensland-based Maroons?

One of the most famous victories in Brisbane's proud history was inspired not by Darren Lockyer, Allan Langer or Gorden Tallis but rather Nick Parfitt, Stu Kelly, Shane Walker and an unheralded, unfashionable mob that will forever be known as the Baby Broncos.

Back in round 12, 2002, the Broncos were midway through yet another stellar campaign that would see them play finals footy for the 11th year in a row.

And while that sustained period of success delivered four premierships to Red Hill, it also came with the caveat that when State of Origin rolled around each year a posse of Broncos would be required to pull on the maroon of Queensland.

And so it was that Walker strode onto Campbelltown Stadium on May 31, 2002 with no fewer than six debutants trailing behind him and a bloke named Craig Bellamy clutching the clipboard in the grandstand.

Nine of the Broncos' frontline stars and coach Wayne Bennett were in Maroons camp, preparing to try and square the series with the Blues after a 32-4 loss in Game One, including Lockyer, Langer, Lote Tuqiri, Shane Webcke, Dane Carlaw and Andrew Gee.

"That night we showed that the Broncos have always been a team where, no matter who is put out there, everyone will do a job and is capable of doing a job," Walker told in 2018.

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"We had nine players in the Origin side and the group that played that night knew they'd be sitting in the foyer of the hotel watching the game.

"As much as you want to do your family proud, there is nothing like being able to play well for your teammates and sometimes for the ones that aren't playing."

With winger Steve Irwin and centre Casey McGuire both scoring doubles, the 'Baby Broncos' prevailed 28-14, setting the tone for countless brave Brisbane performances in the absence of their Origin stars in years to come.

Wind the clock forward to 2021, and there was no such hurdles or heroics for Kevin Walters' Broncos side when they were humbled 52-24 by the Dragons in the round preceding Origin I, with Xavier Coates and Payne Haas the only Brisbane players chosen for state duty.

As we head into Game Two on Sunday, the Broncos' fall from grace as a Queensland powerhouse is complete, with not a single player chosen for the Maroons. In the Blue corner, Haas again suits up for NSW in his sixth Origin.

It's a far cry from 2015 when the Broncos provided Darius Boyd, Justin Hodges, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker and Matt Gillett to the Maroons mid-year and stormed into the grand final at the end of the season.

Their opponents in that epic 2015 decider were the Cowboys, who had four Origin reps that season – Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott and Michael Morgan for Queensland and James Tamou for the Blues.

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Thurston was part of the Cowboys' biggest ever Origin representation in 2005 alongside Ty Williams, Paul Bowman, Matt Sing, Carl Webb and Matt Bowen.

Come Sunday night in Brisbane and only three Cowboys will fly the flag, with Val Holmes, Kyle Feldt and debutant Francis Molo doing their bit for Paul Green, the man who led the club to the 2015 premiership.

Queensland's third club, the Titans, have also supplied three members of Green's team in David Fifita, Tino Fa'asuamaleaui and Moeaki Fotuaika.

Until last season, only six Gold Coast players – Jai Arrow, Ashley Harrison, Nate Myles, Scott Prince, Dave Taylor and Jarrod Wallace – had pulled on the maroon jersey. They were joined by AJ Brimson and Phillip Sami in 2020, although a foot injury sidelined Brimson after Game One and Sami was dropped for the decider.

That third game delivered a stunning Maroons victory at Suncorp Stadium to ice a 2-1 series win very few people saw coming.

Jai Arrow and Val Holmes were the only two players from Queensland clubs in the Maroons' Origin III side last year.
Jai Arrow and Val Holmes were the only two players from Queensland clubs in the Maroons' Origin III side last year.

Of the 17 men who etched their name in Origin folklore on November 18 last year, only two came from Queensland clubs, a sad indictment on how far the Broncos, Cowboys and Titans had fallen.

On the back of a horror season that saw the pride of the Sunshine State win just 17 games between them en route to finishing 13th, 14th and 15th on the ladder, Holmes and Arrow were the sole representatives from Queensland clubs in a Queensland jersey savouring the upset.

So maybe six out of 17 this Sunday at Suncorp isn't too bad after all. Or maybe expectations have fallen as the mighty have fallen since those heady days of 2002 and 2015.


The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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