From 1908 to 1994, the National Rugby League was known as the New South Wales Rugby League. For the first 74 years, it was purely suburban Sydney teams (with the exception of Newcastle, who were a foundation team before dropping out)
That changed in 1982 when the first non-Sydney teams – Canberra Raiders and Illawarra Steelers – were admitted. The boundaries were expanded in 1988 with the Brisbane Broncos, Gold Coast-Tweed Giants (the first of many Gold Coast teams) and Newcastle’s re-entry as the Knights.
When the Broncos blew away Manly in their first game, the fabric of Australian rugby league shifted. Queensland’s Origin success demanded a Brisbane team in the NSWRL. Their Origin-heavy team ensured the Broncos wouldn’t make up the numbers. The Broncos took just five years to win a premiership, the first of six in 15 years (1992, 93, 97, 98, 2000, 2006). There are the last team to win consecutive premierships in a united competition. Their dominance of the nineties – along with Canberra – shook rugby league from its suburban Sydney roots to a more national competition.
While the Broncos haven’t won a premiership since, they are one of the most consistent teams in the NRL. While Sydney and Canberra struggle to crack over 10,000, the Broncos’ have averaged over 30,000 at Suncorp Stadium/Lang Park since 2005 and made the finals every years from 1992 to 2009.
They have a stranglehold in Queensland; they easily fended off the South Queensland Crushers from 1995-97 and are more consistent than North Queensland and the Gold Coast Titans. Not everyone loves the Broncos, with some calling them arrogant, but their success rate can’t be argued. The Brisbane Bombers are rumoured to enter the NRL and a Lang Park grand final is likely in the future. Queensland also boasts a strong local comp (Intrust Super Cup) which has expanded to PNG.
Which brings us to State of Origin, which Queensland have dominated since 2006. Origin was started by Queensland, sick of NSW’s interstate dominance and poaching of Queenslanders by rich Sydney clubs. Queensland’s eight straight series wins have been helped by an incredible lineup, few injuries, consistent selections (compared to NSW’s erratic selection approach) and Mal Meninga’s efforts as coach. While NSW are slowly improving under Laurie Daley, Queensland’s class and big game experience is vital to their success, backed by the faithful and passionate army of maroon supporters.
This year, Brisbane and North Queensland are in the top two. Could we have something every Queenslander has been waiting for (and every NSW fan has been dreading) – an all-Queensland grand final? It’s certainly possible. If the Broncos and Cowboys keep their current positions, they will enjoy home ground advantage through September. After three straight unlucky finals campaigns, the Cowboys are due some good fortune.
While NSW fans can hold onto tradition all they want, maybe it’s time to accept that Queensland is the new heartland of rugby league.