GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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During its early years, State of Origin football brought Queensland to the fore as a major competitor to the traditional New South Wales stranglehold over rugby league. This eventually led to two new Queensland sides joining the NSWRL competition in 1988. Of those teams, it was the Broncos that proved the dominant force north of the border and while they were enjoying consecutive premierships in 1992 and 1993, their Gold Coast counterparts were being smacked with wooden spoons.
Superleague and further expansion brought us two more clubs in 1995 - South Queensland and North Queensland - followed one year later by major changes at the Gold Coast franchise. It barely dented the mighty Brisbane on the field, and off the field things were even worse. South Queensland and the Gold Coast ultimately met their demise, leaving us with two remaining Queensland based clubs. Brisbane continued their dominance while the Cowboys were finding it tough to say the least.
However a number of factors, one of which was a lifeline by News Limited, meant the Cowboys organisation finally took some forward steps during the turn of the century. While their results didn't improve much in the short term, some of their players were finally being noticed at representative level. A bit of coaching turmoil took place and after the departure of Tim Sheens and then Murray Hearst in 2002, Graham Murray was brought in to give the side some much needed credibility and consistency.
Once again it took time for the results to show and all the while Brisbane continued to stroll comfortably into the finals, following them up with premierships in 1998 and 2000. The following years saw them continue to be a force, and it seemed like their remarkable consistency had become as sure as death and taxes.
While it's only a comparitively short space of time, recent results may indicate that the Brisbane Broncos are ever so slightly fading as Queensland's "one and only" rugby league club.
Leading into round 20, the Broncos faced Manly and many were tipping the side to win all their remaining games and claim the minor premiership. One month later, they had lost four on the trot. When the Warriors made that five last weekend, Brisbane found themselves in a position where they could drop out of the top eight - and out of finals contention - for the first time since 1991.
While they've lost several games in a row in the past, rarely has it been in the crucial lead up to the finals. It's even more unlike them to lose three of those games to sides who are languishing in the bottom four - and two of those matches at their spiritual home Lang Park.
Meanwhile the Cowboys have enjoyed arguably their most successful - if not their most encouraging - season to date. It was only a long run of narrow, and at times controversial, losses that put them out of finals contention. But amidst the heartbreak, their outside backs have established themselves as perhaps the most exciting of the year. Intelligent recruiting in the forward pack has seen their resolve improve out of site, and their halves combination has performed strongly all season.
Additionally, midyear recruitment has been far more positive for the North Queensland side than Brisbane. The Cowboys will look to build on their strengths next year, having kept the core of successful players and adopting potential stars of the future. Looking at the Broncos' roster for 2004 however leaves numerous questions unanswered, possibly the biggest one being how they will solve their problem in the halves and rucks following the departure of Ben Ikin, Scott Prince and Richard Swain.
Obviously it remains to be seen what will happen in the coming weeks for the Broncos, and the next season for both Queensland clubs. But with North Queensland now a more attractive prospect for emerging talent than ever before, few would deny that the potential for a power shift in the Queensland stakes is greater than it's ever been. We might even see the Cowboys enjoy equal Origin representation with the Broncos as early as 2005.
Possibilities aside, one thing has become certain. The Cowboys have proven that their fanbase will always be there even when results turn sour. How will the Broncos fans respond if their side fails to reach the finals this year or next?
We'll just have to wait and see.
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