NRL Finals: Warriors prepare for one of their biggest ever challenges – Brisbane will be swamped by league fever

The Warriors will face one of the biggest challenges in their history tonight.

The club has featured on a number of important occasions over the years, most notably in the 2002 and 2011 NRL Grand Finals against the Roosters and the Sea Eagles respectively.

There were also four other preliminary finals, from the decisive match against Cronulla in 2002, to clashes with Penrith (Sydney, 2003) and Manly (Sydney, 2008), to the unforgettable home victory of the Storm in 2011.

All were defining moments, and there were others, most notably the trip to Melbourne in 2008, in the first week of finals, where the eighth-ranked Warriors managed what is still considered the biggest surprise in playoff history.

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But it’s hard to imagine a bigger cauldron than what’s in front of us at Suncorp Stadium, or a game that’s more emotional than this one.

Queensland has the most fanatical league fans in Australia, while the Broncos have the greatest support of all clubs. Brisbane is being swamped by league fever after its best season in years.

The Courier-Mail had 11 pages devoted to coverage of Friday’s game, while television and radio bulletins are full of conversations about the Broncos. Banners are hanging all over the city – with Broncos players alongside the slogan “The Heart of Brisbane.”

The locals, by their standards, feel a return to the glory days after a long, long drought as prime minister. The Broncos were founded in 1988 and won their first title five years later.

They won four more in quick succession (in 1993, 1997, 1998 and 2000) – the most successful club of that decade – before Wayne Bennett won another one in 2006 . But since then the cabinet has been empty as clubs such as the Sea Eagles, Roosters, Storm and Penrith have gained prominence.

This time here was hard for the hard-nosed in the league, who were accustomed to the ultimate success. The Broncos were close – beaten in three preliminary finals (2009, 2011 and 2017) – along with the agonising loss in the grand final to the North Queensland Cowboys in 2015.

In total, they have reached the playoffs 11 times since their triumph in 2006. Given their history, it’s been 17 years of pain, with the lowest point coming in 2020 when they finished bottom of the NRL ladder for the first time. The following year it was in 14th place – with only seven wins – and last season it failed again at the final stage.

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