20 of the Best – Brisbane Broncos

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on February 10, 2012

As we wait for the season to get underway, the Making The Nut team will take a look back over the last 20 years to name the 20 best players at all sixteen teams. Merged teams will take account of both clubs pre-merger and the only rule is that a player must have played at least three years post-1990. A player's time at the club is the only time that is taken into account.

Here, Cliff Bingham looks back at the greatest Brisbane Broncos.


As the terms of reference for this list refer to significant post-1990 service, I had to leave off a number of huge names in Queensland rugby league who helped give the Broncos instant credibility in the then-NSWRL competition. Let’s just confer ‘honourable mentions’ upon the likes of Wally Lewis, Gene Miles, Greg Dowling et al and move on to the list itself.


20. Michael De Vere

A reliable wing/ centre who was a bit of a sharp-shooter for goal (topping the club point scoring each year from 2000 to 2003 inclusive), he played in three winning grand finals (1997, 1998 and 2000) during his eight-year, 162-game stay at the club. Representative football also called, with five appearances in the sky blue and four in the green and gold. Yet two words will always race to the forefront of my mind when thinking about Mick De Vere – staple gun. He copped the staple gun treatment during an Origin game when a cut opened above his eye and a quick fix was called for. Never let it be said that the man was anything but tough.


19. Brad Thorn

Something of a geographical and sporting wanderer, Thorn played rugby league for Queensland (14 times) and Australia (eight times), but also rugby union for New Zealand. Go figure. At any rate, he was a strong, hard-working second rower/ prop who achieved significant success at the Broncos – a multiple premiership winner and twice awarded Brisbane’s forward of the year title. Never the most glitzy of players, his contribution to the club was nonetheless substantial. Clubs don’t win premierships unless they have players like Brad Thorn somewhere on their books.


18. Andrew Gee

Apart from the ‘wanderer’ thing, most of the sentiments expressed for Brad Thorn could equally apply to Andrew Gee. Often in the shadow of bigger name props (he missed the team for the 1992 premiership and came off the bench in 1993), he could on occasion be criticised for lack of discipline resulting in needless penalties which potentially cost his team victories (most notably when an incorrect 20-metre tap cost the Broncos a penalty and the game against the Roosters). Yet he finished with 255 games in Bronco colours and a further 18 for Queensland, winning the club’s player of the year award in a premiership year (1998). In rugby league terms, they were few more blue-collar, roll-up-the-sleeves type props than Andrew Gee.


17. Shaun Berrigan

Berrigan really was the jack of all trades for Brisbane. At various points of his time at the club, he played centre, five-eighth, halfback and hooker. This utility value not only saw him rack up 186 games (and two premierships) with the Broncos, but also led to his selection 15 times for Queensland and 14 times for Australia. Indeed, one of Wayne Bennett’s masterstroke moves came when Berrigan, who had scored 19 tries in 2005 as a centre, was shifted to hooker midway through the 2006 season – his energy and willingness to take on the defensive line gave the Broncos a new attacking dimension, one that would help them win the premiership.


16. Karmichael Hunt

I’m no happier about including defectors to rugby union/ AFL on this list than you are, but Hunt was so dynamic in his time at the Broncos that a place simply had to be found for him. He was the youngest ever Bronco (aged 17) upon his debut in the opening round of 2004, end the year as the club’s top tryscorer. Despite brief stints as a halfback and subsequently winger, it will be as the successor to Darren Lockyer at fullback that I’ll remember him. In particular, the way he thundered back towards the defensive line on kick returns was something to behold – fear was certainly not one to hold him back. 11 games for Queensland and 10 for Australia may not sound overly impressive, but keep in mind that Billy Slater either played out of position or missed the side entirely in those matches. Had he remained in league and added to his 125 appearances and 53 tries for seasons to come, he might have broken into the top six or seven on this list. Instead, his becomes a story of fleeting greatness and what might have been.


15. Corey Parker

Once upon a time Corey Parker was a fringe first-grader, a prop whose conditioning was questionable and whose career was meandering along. However, his shift to the second row (and subsequently lock) brought about a much leaner, fitter and greatly improved player. Work rate has become his centrepiece, often eclipsing 40 tackles and 100 metres gained with the ball in hand. It is unsurprising then that his career has come on in leaps and bounds of late, winning the 2009 club player of the year award and returning to the Queensland side last year. With solid goal kicking accompanying his hard work up-front, he really has evolved into a Craig Fitzgibbon type, one whom is central to the success of the Broncos in the near future.


14. Sam Thaiday

There are few players in the modern game that can polarise on-field opinion quite like Sam Thaiday. Teammates and fans of the Broncos and Maroons love his presence as an enforcer; critics call him “Third man Thaiday” in response to his penchant for entering scuffles that have commenced without him. One thing is for sure and certain though – he is an on-field force to be reckoned with. He tackles with great force and hits the ball up with gusto, bending (or breaking) the line more often than not. Despite only turning 27 this year, he already has 15 appearances for Queensland and 16 for Australia. He was the Bronco’s player of the year in 2008 and will succeed Darren Lockyer as the club captain this year. A reassessment of this list in five or ten years’ time may see him move into the absolute upper echelons of Bronco greats.


13. Justin Hodges

When fully fit and on-song, Hodges is one the most dangerous attacking centres I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. However, persistent injuries and a falling out with the club that led to him playing for the Sydney Roosters for three seasons see him fall further down this list than his natural talents would suggest. A strong runner and tough defender, his capability in broken play was no more evident than when playing the latter part of the 2006 season at fullback, where his strong kick returning and ability to chime into the backline when in attack helped Brisbane win the premiership. 24 representative caps to date (13 for Queensland, 11 for Australia) despite ongoing injury issues only serve to highlight his prodigious talent.


12. Kerrod Walters

With apologies to an old favourite in Greg ‘Turtle’ Conescu, to my mind Kerrod Walters is clearly the best hooker ever to pull on a Broncos jersey. He was an integral part of the first ‘glory period’ (1992-93) for the Broncos with his creativity and flair from dummy half. In an era when representative jerseys were hotly contested with brother Steve (Queensland) and also Ben Elias (Australia), he got the nod seven times for the Maroons and eight times for the Kangaroos. With brother Kevin and also Allan Langer, the Ipswich duo caused mayhem for opposing defences throughout the early 1990s.


11. Tonie Carroll

A big hitting lock who often acted as the ‘minder’ of Darren Lockyer in the defensive line, he played in four premiership sides despite a two-year stint with the Leeds Rhinos midway through his career. Another who took on the ‘enforcer’ role now occupied by Sam Thaiday back in the day, he played 20 games for Queensland and ten more at international level (though in a bizarre twist, this involved seven games for Australia and three for New Zealand). He was never the ‘star’ but often the lynchpin, while his toughness could not be questioned after playing through injury during the 2006 grand final match, helping Brisbane to victory.


10. Glenn Lazarus

Lazarus would deserve a higher spot on this list if it were more a generic reflection of footballing talent. After all, how many players finish with 21 Test match caps and are declared the best player in the world at some point of their career? I can’t think of a prop in my lifetime who could be argued to be better than Lazarus – a chosen few may be on a par, but none were better to my eye. However, Lazarus was not a dyed-in-the-wool Bronco like many others. Instead, for six seasons he was the ultimate gun for hire. His first two seasons with the Broncos resulted in premierships, as did his last season (albeit that a broken leg kept him out of the 1997 finals series). It takes one hell of a player to wind up with six premierships in an 11-year span for three different clubs, and no-one did more for the Broncos in a shorter span of time.


9. Wendell Sailor

It’s easy to forget this in light of his subsequent rugby union career, off-field scandals, renaissance at St George-Illawarra and larger than life TV personality, but Sailor was a tremendous servant of the Broncos for almost a decade. The baseline statistics are very impressive: 110 tries in 198 games for the club (including three premiership appearances), 17 games for Queensland, 19 for the Kangaroos, club player of the year in 2000.Yet his influence was greater than that. His speed and power redefined the wing position and how it is played – using his size to take regular and effective hit-ups, especially early in tackle counts, relieved some of the pressure on his forward pack. Indeed, after winning the 2000 World Cup, Kangaroo coach Chris Anderson stated that "he's up there with Eric Grothe among the best (wingers) of all time" – lofty praise indeed.


8. Michael Hancock

A ‘foundation member’ of the Broncos’ starting first-grade side, he made both his Queensland and Test debuts in 1989, en route to a total of 29 representative caps.  He was partial to the odd sideways run and a touch of ‘buckjumping’ when being held down in the play the ball, yet it was his longevity with the Broncos that really stood out. After playing in the 1992 and 1993 premierships, he was cut at the start of the 1996 season. Rather than bowing out, he asked to train with the team during the off-season and was eventually awarded a new contract. By the time his career finally ended, he had played in a further two premierships and scored a total of 120 tries for the club in 274 matches.


7. Steve Renouf

As statistics for centres go, those for Steve Renouf are about as good as you could hope for – 142 tries for the Broncos in just 183 games (including five hauls of four tries in a match!), 21 representative caps, four premierships. Yet somehow it feels like they don’t really capture what is was like to watch him play. The Pearl was something to behold in full flight – one of my absolute favourites. Of all the  tries he scored for the Broncos, my favourite came in the 1992 grand final – a straight dash from well inside his own half, Ricky Walford in pursuit, a simple battle of speed and wills, Renouf getting the nod and the four points. His defence also evolved over his career – shaky in the beginning, stout and strong by its conclusion. A Renouf-Hodges centre pairing would not be out of place in any ‘best of’ style team.


6. Petero Civoniceva

Here’s a great way to win money off your friends – ask them how many reserve grade games Civoniceva (he of 30 Queensland caps, 45 Test appearances, two premierships and three club player of the year awards) played in. The answer is astonishingly high 39. When he did finally break into first grade in 1998, he captured both the Broncos’ rookie of the year award and a bench spot for their grand final victory. He missed the 2000 premiership decider through injury but by 2001 was on the representative scene. For a number of years thereafter, he formed an irrepressible front row partnership with Shane Webcke for the Broncos and often the Maroons. Salary cap restrictions saw him head south to Penrith in 2008, but his return to the Broncos this season will no doubt warm the hearts of the Brisbane faithful.


5. Kevin Walters

Kevin Walters started his time at the Broncos in 1990 by taking the five-eighth role from Wally Lewis (who shifted to lock) and finished it in 2000 as the premiership captain. Plenty of terrific things happened in between (23 Origin games, eight Tests, five premierships, over 240 games for the club), but the beginning and end points are the most telling when trying to evaluate his influence and impact on the club. His kicking, passing and running games were the perfect foil for halfback Allan Langer – with these two creating havoc in the middle and the calibre of their outside backs, little wonder they (along with the Canberra Raiders) were the pre-eminent attacking units of the 1990s. In some sense he will always be slightly in the shadow of Langer – after all, it is difficult to have two alpha dogs in a football team – yet that shouldn’t ever detract from an outstanding contribution to the club.


4. Shane Webcke

Shane Webcke’s autobiography was titled ‘Warhorse’. No great shakes on the originality front but in his defence, could it have been named anything else? When I think of Webcke, it is the word that jumps to mind instantaneously. He played in four premiership sides – sporting a broken arm during the finals series of the third (in 2000) and retiring on the highest note of all after the fourth. Over 250 games for his club were complemented by 21 for Queensland and 20 for Australia. Glitz and glamour was not his go – he was simply a tough, no-nonsense, hard-hitting, bend-the-line sort of prop. And the Broncos were far the richer for his services.


3. Gorden Tallis

Another one whose book title (Raging Bull) was a poignant and fitting as it was unimaginative. He won three premierships in his first four years (including a Clive Churchill Medal in 1998), had a four year stint as club captain, played 20 Origin matches and 11 Tests (captaining both towards the end), and was Brisbane player of the year in 1999. Statistics do a poor job of reflecting a number of things though. Like how much of a wrecking ball someone was. Or how they would go toe-to-toe with anyone – remember poor old Ben Ross picking him in a Brisbane v Penrith game? I think the judges awarded that round to Tallis 27 points to negative five. Or how they could inspire their team with one herculean effort in defence – I know it wasn’t for the Broncos, but who can forget his turning Brett Hodgson into a rag doll in Origin? A neck injury sadly ended the career of a man who worse his heart on his sleeve and didn’t know how to give any less than his best. As a club leader, you couldn’tr ask for anything more.


And so we’re left with two. You could argue a fantastic case for either being ranked as the Broncos’ best of the past twenty years and I was quite tempted to wuss out here and declare them equal first, before finally settling on:


2. Allan Langer

The accolades are there for all to see. He played 258 games for the Broncos, 37 in Queensland colours and 23 in the green and gold. He won a Dally M Medal in 1992, a Rothmans Medal in 1996 and a Clive Churchill Medal in 1992. He captained his team to four premierships (1992, 1993, 1997 Super League and 1998) in an eight year span in charge. He was the Paul Morgan Medal (the award for the Bronco’s best and fairest) winner on five occasions. His deft kicking, decision making and capability as an on-field general (to wit, one of his nicknames was ‘The Little General’) were sublime. Despite his diminutive stature, he never shirked the task in defence. There are no more than a handful of footballers I’ve had the pleasure of watching over the last quarter of a century or so whom I’d rank above him, including…


1. Darren Lockyer

I was all set to wax lyrical about the great man before it dawned on me that Nick Tedeschi, founder of Making The Nut and a far superior writer, had already covered this ground in his From The Couch article of September last year.

“…his 355 club games is the most ever played and nobody has got close to winning as much as Lockyer, whose 237 wins is a record that will almost certainly never be topped in this era of parity.

No player has played more finals matches with his 35 appearances netting four premierships. His 59 Test matches (note: as at September 2011) that included 47 wins is a record that is unparalleled. For an amazing nine years, he was Australia’s captain. A total of 36 Origins where he guided the Maroons to a record six straight series wins.

…… he was the best custodian in the game and quickly became the best five-eighth, a monumental achievement that has rarely, if ever, been accomplished.

He has excelled at every level of the game and has been a truly magical player. His durability has been something else with Lockyer playing over 450 first grade and representative matches. There was no tougher player in the game. His brilliance with the football was beaten by few. In his youth he was quick but it was his deception that made him so difficult to tackle. There was no smarter player in the game. He understood everything from tempo and momentum to strategy and the impact of a big moment to timing and organisation and the importance of preparation. Lockyer was the ultimate player, a certain Immortal who should be inducted tomorrow.

There is little else to say other than thank you. Darren Lockyer is a champion of the code, the toughest and smartest footballer I have ever seen, the ultimate winner, a mighty competitor who never did anything but play rugby league the way it was meant to be played. You will be sorely missed. Rugby league just won’t be the same without you.”

Thanks Nick – couldn’t have said it any better myself.


Thanks to Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images AsiaPac for use of the photo. 


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