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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Joe Hinchliffe

‘It’s going off’: Brisbane abuzz with energy and confidence ahead of AFL and NRL grand finals

Amelia Hillhouse was ecstatic to meet captain Adam Reynolds at a Brisbane Broncos fan day this week, having ‘watched’ her first NRL grand final aged five days with dad Daniel (inset).
Amelia Hillhouse was ecstatic to meet captain Adam Reynolds at a Brisbane Broncos fan day this week, having ‘watched’ her first NRL grand final aged five days with dad Daniel, inset. Composite: Supplied

Amelia Hillhouse couldn’t wait for her first Broncos NRL grand final, but she is even more excited about her second.

Born six weeks premature in 2015, she was five days old and still in hospital when her father, Daniel, a mechanic by trade, draped Amelia in her first maroon and gold jersey to watch the Broncos lose by one point in an extra-time classic against the Cowboys.

This time around, the setting will be far more festive. The Hillhouses scored tickets to both Broncos’ home finals – but missed out on joining the hordes of fans who will descend on Sydney for the decider against Penrith.

So Daniel is getting his hands on an inflatable screen and projector and “inviting everyone” to his home in the outer northern bayside suburb of Griffin instead.

That pop-up screen will get a workout. First, on Saturday, it will show the Broncos’ cross-code rivals, the Lions, as they vie for the AFL’s premiership flag against Collingwood.

“We will definitely be watching the Lions smash the Pies,” a confident Hillhouse predicts.

Though the Broncos and Lions will go into the weekend as underdogs, Hillhouse’s bravado is a widespread sentiment across Brisbane as its historic dual grand final weekend has the city gripped with football fever.

The spring sun is shining on the Queensland capital, its jacarandas are exploding into plumes of purple, an ambitious Brisbane festival has just concluded to widespread acclaim and there is a general sense on the ground that the River City can take on the world.

In Manly, on Brisbane’s bayside, the Grattans will be packing their maroon, blue and gold supporters’ gear for a fly-in-fly-out trip to Melbourne on Saturday.

Roger was a timekeeper for the old Brisbane Bears, Sandra runs a Lions supporters’ Facebook page and went to all four of the merged sides’ grand final appearances from 2001 to 2004.

Sandra describes her passion for the Lions as “over the top” – the 59-year-old has to warn neighbours when she plans to watch games at home.

Brisbane Lions fans Sandra and Roger Grattan at the Gabba in Brisbane
AFL Brisbane Lions fans Sandra and Roger Grattan at the Gabba in Brisbane. Photograph: Sandra and Roger Grattan

Last Saturday, when cheering on the Lions in their preliminary final at the Gabba clashed with the corresponding Broncos game at Lang Park, Sandra taped the NRL and rushed home without checking the news to watch the game oblivious of its result.

“It’s going off everywhere,” she says of the atmosphere in her bayside suburb. “And it will just be so huge if we win both.”

Though both teams have known periods of dominance, two premiership victories have never coincided, and neither has tasted ultimate success in years – 17 in the case of the Broncos and 20 for the Lions.

So both clubs are whipping up fans long starved of success.

The Lions are putting up big screens in South Bank as well as three days of Aussie rules clinics, face painting and “AFL public activation” in the surrounding parklands.

The Broncos are inviting fans to their Red Hill base for a big screen and food truck “extravaganza”.

In the redeveloped Howard Smith Wharves precinct beneath Storey Bridge, Felons Brewery is expecting several thousands of revellers.

The Felons brand director, Dean Romeo, says with the weather “well and truly turning it on” there was a “a sense of energy in the air”.

“With both Brisbane teams being in the final, everybody is just riding that buzz and that excitement and that wave … It’s going to be pretty electric,” he says of the weekend.

On Caxton Street, the promenade toward Lang Park, a watering hole synonymous with Brisbane rugby league is preparing for the kind of rowdy celebrations its walls have witnessed many times over the years.

Ash Vienna, the Caxton Hotel venue manager, says punters will be turning up early on Sunday as there is no point trying to book ahead.

“The pub is that full of people – there’s no room for tables,” he says.

But this year, unlike those past, he’s expecting many of the same faces will turn up for the Aussie rules as well.

While at Woolloongabba’s Brisbane Brewing Co, a short stroll from the home of the Lions, owner Michelle Clark is preparing for a packed-out pub for both games.

“Everyone is so positive, it’s a time to be proud of being from Brisbane,” she says.

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