By Lee Reilly
When Brisbanites recall 1988, two things come instantly to mind; Expo 88 and the debut season of the Brisbane Broncos.
This left the Brisbane Rugby League that was in the midst of its strongest era, having to take a back seat to the expanded Winfield Cup. The Newcastle Knights and Gold Coast Giants joined the Broncos as the code looked to expand from a solely NSW/ACT competition.
The Wynnum Manly Seagulls felt the bite harder than most after the Broncos recruited BRL heavyweights Gene Miles, Greg Dowling, Colin Scott and the “King” Wally Lewis into the inaugural squad.
Seagulls’ 1988 Reserve Grade coach Graham Smith recalls that season vividly and how much impact the Broncos had on the public.
“Everybody became a Broncos supporter overnight, whether or not they had ever followed rugby league.
“We were left virtually with a bunch of young kids to keep the club going, which they did.”
Two of the local kids which Smith is referring to from 1988 included Neil Tierney and John Plath.
Tierney would go on to be part of the Manly 1996 premiership side and play in all three games for the Maroons in 1997, while Plath would be part of the Broncos first four premierships (1992, 1993, 1997and 1998).
Wynnum Manly were to the BRL what Canterbury and Parramatta were to the Winfield Cup and BMD Kougari Oval was a Mecca for diehard league fans.
“When the stars were there, that joint (Kougari Oval) would be choc-a-block with probably five to six thousand people filling the place up.”
Following the exodus of the game’s most talented players, crowd figures dropped significantly and the Seagulls felt the financial impact of the BRL capitulation as hard as any other club.
“We were trying to keep star players with chook raffles, selling beer over the [bar] and gate receipts from home games.
“The club was going to be sold. They were in debt,” Smith recalls.
Sitting in his backyard, only a stone throw from the club that he and many others fought tirelessly to keep alive, Smith can’t help but reflect on the likes of Valleys, Brothers and Wests that fell by the wayside.
“We were fortunate to survive, I feel for the clubs that didn’t.”
This Sunday the 25th of March, the club hosts the ‘Men of League – Seagulls Past Players Luncheon’ which will coincide with the Wynnum Manly Seagulls v Redcliffe Dolphins rivalry round game. The 1988 squad will feature as special guests for the afternoon. To book tickets, click here.