Each week NEIL CADIGAN will look back on some of the most eventful games and most famous names in the club’s 70-year history and bring them back to life. Today we go back to 1993 and the incredible Eels performance in Brisbane before a record Queensland rugby league crowd at the opening of the Broncos’ new home ground.
It was supposed to be a pinnacle moment for emerging super-power of rugby league, the Brisbane Broncos, but it turned out to be one of several massive upset victories for the battling Parramatta Eels during their tough post-premiership error.
Due to a beer rights and tenancy dispute with the Queensland Rugby League over the use of Lang Park, the Broncos had decided to abort the traditional headquarters of Queensland rugby league and play out of ANZ Stadium, in south-west Brisbane, venue of the 1982 Commonwealth Games with its 60,000 capacity in open-air stands, from 1993.
The Broncos had won the minor premiership and their first grand final in ’92 with a star-studded side that included skipper Allan Langer, Kevin and Kerrod Walters, Steve Renouf, Willie Carne and Glenn Lazarus, and were on their way to a second (from fifth place on the final ladder) premiership.
They christened their new home in round three of 1993 against an Eels line-up they had avoided the wooden spoon in successive seasons only by Gold Coast finishing two competition points below them, and had never beaten the Broncos in Brisbane in their four interstate visits since Brisbane entered the competition in 1988 (and won only one of nine clashes between the sides).
Brett Kenny, captain and last survivor of the 1986 premiership team after Peter Sterling had bowed to a shoulder injury the year before, was missing because of a shoulder injury. The Eels, captained by Kiwi halfback Stu Galbraith, and including former Test forward and twice-premiership winner Paul Dunn, were seen as being easy prey for the homecoming kings even though the Eels had begun the season with victories over Penrith and Cronulla.
The crowd that turned up on a sunny afternoon to welcome home their champion Broncos – 51,517 – was the biggest to watch a rugby league match in Queensland, and the biggest for a competition game outside a finals match in 27 years. They thought they had entered the colosseum to see a slaughter.
It did not eventuate due to one of Parramatta’s best performances of that era.
In a willing contest that produced just one try apiece, the Eels were victorious 12-8 after Brisbane scored first through fullback Julian O’Neill midway through the first half to lead 6-0.
Parra made 150 tackles in the first half but refused to wilt as Brisbane dominated possession. Their only try came in the 62nd minute through 19-year-old centre sensation Michael Buettner, the 1991 Australian Schoolboys skipper who was in his second season in the Eels’ top grade. Buettner ran off a pass from dummy half close to the line to cross in a day he scored all his team’s points.
After Buettner had scored two penalty goals and Terry Matterson (now Titans assistant coach) had added a penalty to his conversion of O’Neill’s try, the Broncos had led 8-4 when Buettner crossed. The teenager converted for 10-8 then landed another penalty goal under loud distracting noise from the pro-Broncos crowd, to secure the four-point victory.
Incidentally, the Eels hooker that day was Cronulla’s premiership winning coach Shane Flanagan.
Of the 16 Brisbane players, 11 were or became internationals and another three played for Queensland.
“You look back at the two teams and we should have been no chance,” recalls Buettner, now chairman of the NRL’s video review committee.
“But, having said that, in all my career I loved playing the Broncos because you knew they would be littered with internationals and you had to play well to beat them; they were the benchmark and that sometimes lifted you.
“It was pretty intimidating going up there for the opening of the stadium as a footy venue, the Broncs playing at home as premiers for the first time and over 50,000 were going to be there. I flew my father up for the game, as his brother lived up there and I knew it was going to be a big occasion.
“It was a hot day and I remember Mick Cronin (the coach) saying at half-time ‘if there is anyone at the moment who is too tired to go back on the field, put your hand up’. I felt like putting my hand up but wouldn’t of course.
“It was an incredible effort by a Parramatta team that, in all honestly, was a team of nobodies compared to who we were up against. But we just kept digging in for each other in defence on our line and kept them out and our confidence just grew.
“It was certainly a highlight of my first stint at Parramatta; one of those great wins when there wasn’t a real lot of them.
“Canberra were the other side full of internationals that season with Meninga, Daley, Belcher, Clyde, Stuart, Mullins and Steve Walters and we were beaten 68-0 in the second last round!”
Brisbane went on a five-match winning run after the loss while the Eels, who were one of only four unbeaten teams after three rounds but won just two of their next nine and finished on 18 points – 14 points behind the fifth placed Broncos (only five of the 16 teams played finals then).
However, when the Eels returned to ANZ for the opening round of the next season to take on the successive premiership winners, they almost pulled off another massive upset.
This time they came back from a 16-8 deficit to draw 16-all, with Buettner again prominent – scoring a try. The other went to Galbraith, with newcomer from Bathurst, Keith Blackett, taking over the goalkicking and landing four goals.
The Eels certainly seemed to have a liking for ANZ Stadium in the 90s. In 1996, they went down 24-30 (they met only once in ’95, at Parramatta Stadium), beat the Broncos 20-16 in 1998 in the premiership rounds (they did not play in ’97 with Brisbane in Super League) then returned to ANZ for the finals to beat the minor premiers 15-10 before bowing out against the Bulldogs the week later, missing a grand final rematch with the Broncos in Sydney (Brisbane won their third premiership).
The Eels returned to Brisbane for more glory in 1999, winning 21-10, but went down 28-6 in 2000 (Brisbane’s fourth premiership season).
In 2001, the Eels won 28-12 during their incredible 18-match run that featured just one loss. They were victorious yet again in 2002 by 22-18 during the last of Brisbane’s ten seasons at ANZ (they played four games there in 2003 before returning to the redeveloped Lang Park which became known as Suncorp Stadium).
So, in nine visits to ANZ in Brisbane, the Eels record was six wins, two losses and a draw in a period when the Broncos won four premierships and finished above Parramatta on the ladder in all but two seasons (1999 and 2001).
It became a happy haven for the Eels who also always attract a large number of Queensland-based Eels fans to all games in Brisbane!
NOTE: The situation was reversed when the Broncos visited Parramatta Stadium. The Eels won the first clash between the teams there in 1988, but did not taste victory again until 2001 (after Brisbane won the next eight clashes in Sydney).
Round 3, 1993 – Parramatta 12 d. Brisbane 8 at ANZ Stadium, Brisbane.
PARRAMATTA: Scott Mahon, Michael Erickson, Robert Muchmore, Michael Buettner, Joe Bartolo, Michael Speechley, Stu Galbraith (capt), Paul Dunn, Shane Flanagan, John Fearnley, Cameron Blair, Dallas Weston, Mark Horo. Interchange: Darren Winmill, Tulson Tollett, David Penna.
BRISBANE: Julian O’Neill, Michael Hancock, Steve Renouf, Chris Johns, Willie Carne, Kevin Walters, Allan Langer (capt), Glenn Lazarus, Kerrod Walters, Mark Hohn, Trevor Gillmeister, Alan Cann, Terry Matterson. Interchange: Peter Ryan, John Plath, Butch Fatnowna.