Arguably one of the biggest en masse injections of quality players into the Sydney premiership occurred in the period around 1985 – 1988, when many players from the ranks of Brisbane club teams moved to the Sydney competition.
Not only were the Brisbane Broncos (and Gold Coast Giants) admitted to the competition in 1988 (their sides collated largely from the ranks of the Brisbane club premiership), but the continuing reduction in strength of the local Brisbane scene saw many other quality players also head to the established Sydney clubs.
St George, for example, took on six players, mainly from Brisbane Brothers, and other teams like Canberra recruited multiple eventual premiership winners from Brisbane Souths, such as champions and internationals Mal Meninga, Gary Belcher and Peter Jackson, as well as coach Wayne Bennett.
The Broncos were taxed heavily by representative commitments during the season proper in their early years (not just in State of Origin, but at international level - for example, Australia conducted a full six game Tour of New Zealand featuring three Tests and three additional provincial matches in 1989, and had their representative players unavailable for nearly a month of the season), and this when combined with some crucial injuries at bad times and the seismic departure of then Kangaroos captain Wally Lewis after the 1990 season (his feud with coach Bennett is still talked about), saw them underperform in their initial years in Sydney.
After being knocked out by Cronulla on the eve of the Finals in 1989 and then in the Preliminary Final the following year by Canberra, the Broncos settled into a period of greater stability and refined their teamwork during the 1991 season. By the time this Grand Final was played in 1992, Brisbane was the pre-eminent club in the league and was ravenous to confirm this standing with premiership success.
The unfortunate victim in 1992 was to be Brian Smith’s St George, who were blown off the park after half time by a Broncos side primed by Bennett, after a relatively close first stanza with the teams at 6-4 in Brisbane’s favour.
After Brisbane scored two second-half tries through the diminutive Allan Langer and forward Alan Cann, Saints pressed hard until they were inside ten metres from the Broncos goal line.
A good grubber from Dragons’ halfback Noel Goldthorpe forced Brisbane well back into their own in-goal, where it was fielded just before the dead ball line by international winger Willie Carne. Carne quite brilliantly beat four Saints players to even get the ball back into the field of play, before a quick play-the-ball saw current Broncos coach Kevin Walters sense a wide opportunity, shoving his twin brother Kerrod out of the way at dummy half. Kevin Walters’ long ball to the wonderful Langer was followed with a longer pass to the left from the cheeky Queensland half, and Brisbane centre Steve Renouf received the ball approximately five metres from his own line.
Renouf’s glorious step inside left St George’s defence clutching at thin air, and the Aboriginal superstar was off at full throttle, completely burning off the cover.
Renouf rocketed up field, chased desperately by Saints fullback Mick Potter and marvellous fellow indigenous winger Ricky Walford, who he just beat in a plunging dive over the line. Renouf was set upon by his delighted Broncos team mates, the clinching try of the 1992 decider, and one that would in many ways define his legacy as a player.
The unlucky St George would go closer the next year in a repeat of the 1992 decider, but again the Broncos would emerge victorious in 1993 to confirm themselves as the best club in the Australian game – taking the mantle from Tim Sheen’s mighty Canberra Raiders of the late 1980s-early 1990s, who had graced the last three deciders, winning two of them back-to-back in 1989 and 1990.