Fantasy Match: Brisbane Broncos (1992) vs. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (2004)
‘Forwards win games, backs decide by how much.’
We’ve all heard the saying, but how much truth is there in it really? Do forwards always own the result, or can a great backline eclipse a dominant pack?
That is, to some extent, the question faced today as we match up two of the great premiership winning sides of the modern era.
In the red (maroon) corner, we have the Brisbane Broncos of 1992, a team bristling with representative stars, capable of scoring from anywhere at any time.
In the blue corner, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs of 2004, a side led by one of the most fearsome forward packs of the modern era.
Can the classy Broncos handle the brute force of the vaunted Bulldogs?
Who will win?
The Home Team: Brisbane Broncos (1992)
The early 1990s were a golden era for rugby league in Australia. On the back of the somewhat defence-oriented ‘80s, the ‘90s saw attacking flair return to the fore, with sides like the Brisbane Broncos and Canberra Raiders (each littered with representative stars) leading the charge. Often proclaimed as the ‘glamour club’ during this period, the Broncos of 1992 were one of the most exciting rugby league teams ever to grace a pitch.
After narrowly missing the finals in 1991, the Broncos were near unstoppable in ’92, dropping just four matches and finishing the regular season six points clear of their nearest rivals, the St. George Dragons. After outclassing the Illawarra Steelers in the major semi, Brisbane met the Dragons in the grand final, emerging comfortable victors 28-8.
Perhaps more significantly, the Broncos went on to become the first Australian club to win the World Club Challenge in England, defeating the great Wigan Warriors side of the era 22-8.
A member of the Broncos squad since their inception in 1988, Langer became the club’s captain in 1992 following the retirement of Gene Miles. He took to the role like a duck to water, producing a brilliant individual season (which saw him awarded the Rothmans Medal) and leading the Broncos to their maiden premiership. A dominant display in the Grand Final of ’92 saw Langer take home the Clive Churchill Medal as best-on-ground. Most revered for his unparalleled short passing and kicking game, which allowed him to wreak havoc around the ruck, there is little doubt that the diminutive number seven ranks among the most influential players ever to strap on a boot.
Not to be outdone by Langer, dynamic five-eighth Kevin Walters was the ideal partner in crime. Along with twin brother Kerrod, the trio, who grew up playing together, were to become known as the ‘Ipswich Connection’, such was their brilliant combination. Walters’ pinpoint passing game, along with his deadly dummy, made him a constant thorn for opposition defences. He scored 11 tries in 1992 and provided the perfect link between Langer and Brisbane’s electrifying three-quarters.
After playing in three consecutive grand finals with the Canberra Raiders from 1989 to 1991, Lazarus moved to the Broncos in ‘92 and made an immediate impact, proving to be a critical cog in their premiership charge. ‘The Brick with Eyes’ was built for rugby league: his hulking frame combined with a superhuman work-rate made him a nightmare for opposition defences; his devastating charges created the space for the likes of Langer and Walters to weave their magic. Widely heralded as one of the greatest front rowers of all time, success would continue to follow Lazarus throughout his career.
In a team of attacking weapons, ‘The Pearl’ was the pièce de résistance. Blessed with blinding acceleration, the sharpest of swerves, and a remarkable ability to stop on a dime, Renouf routinely left his opposing centres grasping at air. His long-range effort in the 1992 decider, a contender among the greatest grand final tries, will forever be remembered by Broncos and rugby league fans alike. Along with Langer, Renouf was the club’s leading try scorer in 1992.
- Julian O’Neill
- Michael Hancock
- Steve Renouf
- Chris Johns
- Willie Carne
- Kevin Walters
- Allan Langer ©
- Glenn Lazarus
- Kerrod Walters
- Gavin Allen
- Trevor Gillmeister
- Alan Cann
- Terry Matterson
- Mark Hohn
- Andrew Gee
- John Plath
- Tony Currie
Coach: Wayne Bennett
The Away Team: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (2004)
The early 2000s was a period of rapidly alternating turmoil and success for the boys from Belmore. The 2002 side won a record 17 straight games before being stripped of 37 competition points due to severe salary cap breaches. Fortunately (though, arguably, unfairly), the Bulldogs managed to retain the vast majority of their squad for the 2003 and 2004 seasons, opening a fleeting opportunity for premiership glory. 2003 saw the Dogs fall one game short of the grand final, eliminated by their great rivals, the Sydney Roosters. Many thought they’d missed their chance; however, they weren’t done with yet.
In 2004, the Bulldogs produced another excellent season, finishing second on the table, narrowly missing the minor premiership on points differential. They lost their opening finals fixture to the North Queensland Cowboys, but bounced back to win their next three consecutive games, claiming the 2004 title by toppling the Roosters 16-13 in the premiership decider.
The 2004 side is still spoken about as one of the most talented assembled in modern times. Stacked with representative players, the quality of the team is best exemplified by a bench that boasted future internationals Roy Asotasi, Sonny Bill Williams and Johnathan Thurston.
Despite missing the 2004 grand final through injury, Price was an integral member of the Bulldogs’ success. After starting his career in the back row, Price found a home at prop and established himself as one of the best front-rowers of the era. His game was characterised by an incredible work-rate and peerless attention to detail (his kick-chase and marker play, for example, were second-to-none). In conjunction with his on-field abilities, Price’s calm demeanour made him an unflappable leader. He was named Dally M Captain of the Year in 2004.
At his best, ‘Shifty’ was one of the most influential playmakers in the NRL and, in 2004, the Bulldogs #7 was at the peak of his powers. Sherwin was renowned for his ability to conjure tries from nothing; his game punctuated by a brilliant short kicking game, arguably the best since Langer. His combination with five-eighth, Braith Anasta, and flanker, Hazem El Masri, was crucial to the Dogs’ premiership success.
Following Price’s knee injury, Andrew Ryan was awarded the captaincy for the 2004 grand final – a deserved selection that acknowledged Ryan’s standing as a leader of the club. Indeed, 2004 was probably Ryan’s finest year, representing New South Wales in their State of Origin victory, Australia in their Tri-Nations success and captaining the Bulldogs to grand final glory. ‘Bobcat’ possessed all the attributes of a great second rower: a commanding physical presence, superb line running and an excellent offload. His deft short passing game was another feature of his performances. Ryan’s combination with Braith Anasta and Willie Tonga made him a constant menace on the Bulldogs’ left edge.
Another key member of the Dogs’ pack, O’Meley was the perfect complement to Price in the front row. ‘The Ogre’ was the enforcer, terrorising opposition forward packs with his fearless charges, displaying zero regard for personal safety. His inspirational performances throughout 2004 saw him selected for Australia in the end-of-season Tri-Nations tournament.
- Luke Patten
- Hazem El Masri
- Ben Harris
- Willie Tonga
- Matt Utai
- Braith Anasta
- Brent Sherwin
- Mark O’Meley
- Adam Perry
- Steve Price ©
- Willie Mason
- Andrew Ryan
- Tony Grimaldi
- Corey Hughes
- Sonny Bill Williams
- Reni Maitua
- Roy Asotasi
- Johnathan Thurston
Coach: Steve Folkes
The truth is that it’s too simplistic to evaluate this as a battle of forwards vs. backs. Alongside Lazarus and Kerrod Walters, the Broncos pack boasted fellow representative forwards Trevor Gillmeister and Gavin Allen. By the same token, the Bulldogs backline included club legends Luke Patten and Hazem El Masri – and State of Origin representatives Willie Tonga and Braith Anasta, who were at the peak of their powers.
Still, there’s no doubt where the real strength of each team lay.
The Dogs’ game was built upon pure force. Their forward pack was one of the best assembled in modern rugby league. Price, Ryan and O’Meley were joined by Australian back rower, Willie Mason, future international, Reni Maitua, and workhorse lock-forward Tony Grimaldi. The presence of New Zealand forwards, Asotasi and Williams, on the bench demonstrates an embarrassment of riches.
(Note: Looking back at the Bulldogs bench, the talent is obscene. However, our evaluation has to be made in context and, in 2004, players such as Thurston and Williams were, while clearly incredibly talented, still raw.)
The Broncos, on the other hand, were blessed with a sublime backline that few teams in history could hope to match. Langer, Walters, Renouf, Chris Johns, Willie Carne, Michael Hancock and Julian O’Neill would all represent their country at some stage.
The radar-like boot of Hazem El Masri gives the Bulldogs the edge in goal-kicking stakes. The tutelage of super-coach Wayne Bennett tilts the scales in Brisbane’s favour. The Bulldogs were arguably better balanced across the park, but, in key positions, of halfback, five-eighth and hooker, the Broncos were clearly superior.
At some point, I have to make a call…
Brisbane Broncos, 1992
This would be a brutal encounter with very little in the result, but, in the end, it’s impossible to go past the Broncos.
They had greater strength in key positions, including one of the greatest halves combinations of all time.
Lazarus and Langer would retire among Australian rugby league’s 100 greatest players; a feat not replicated by any of the Bulldogs brigade.
And they were mentored by one of the greatest coaches of all time.
The Bulldogs were a truly outstanding team, but even they would fall just short against this great Brisbane side.
What do you think? Have I got it right?
And who would you like to see matched up next?