Is it better to have made a grand final and lost than never to have made a grand final at all?
That is the question south-east Queenslanders are asking after not one but three heartbreaking grand final losses in one weekend.
The answer, though, for the hundreds of diehards who gathered on the banks of the Brisbane River under the scorching spring sun to welcome home their vanquished Broncos was a resounding “absolutely”.
The rugby league players were joined on the Riverstage on Monday morning by the state premier and the city’s lord mayor – and nor were the dignitaries confined to the stage. Trent Dalton was with his two daughters among the adoring masses, not as the city’s favourite son of letters but simply a “nerd fanboy” with his two teenage fangirls.
“They lost the game, but they totally won the city,” Dalton said of his beloved Broncos.
The bestselling author rates Sunday’s NRL’s grand final as one of the greatest football matches he’s ever seen, despite his side going down to Penrith in a two point-thriller. It capped off a weekend of agony for footy fans in the sunshine state after Newcastle snatched the women’s premiership off the Gold Coast Titans and the Lions lost to Collingwood by less than a goal in Saturday’s AFL “granny”.
“The gods just weren’t on our side this weekend,” is how Dalton put it.
But that is just how it goes, he said – all part of what makes football beautiful.
Because along with the “true agony and ecstasy” of the season’s finale were seven months of “genuine joy” for the Dalton family and the tens of thousands-strong “Bronxnation”, who revelled in a season in which the Broncos’ electric style propelled them from not making the finals in 2022 to the edge of glory in ’23.
Many Lions faithful were similarly shattered by an AFL final that wasn’t decided until its final siren, yet proud of a team that has been inching its way out of a prolonged period of ignominy, inexorably it feels, towards a footy flag – and doing so with style.
Sandra and Roger Grattan were among those who flew from Brisbane to Melbourne on Saturday to witness “one of the best games” an Aussie rules fan could ask for. Unless, of course, you happened to have been draped in maroon, blue and gold.
“I was shattered. I was gutted,” Sandra said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
So the Grattans did the only thing they knew. They stuck true. Husband and wife stayed for the post-match liturgies, acknowledging and applauding defeated heroes – and their victors.
“It was difficult, but we did it,” Sandra said.
Then they flew home and watched a replay of the match.
“That was hard,” she said. “The commentary was so Vic-biased, it was cruel to hear it all.”
Was it worth it? All that agony and heartache? Would the Grattans put themselves through it again?
“Oh gosh yes,” Sandra said, without a moment’s hesitation. “Yes, yes absolutely. I’d do it all again tomorrow.”
Despite her pain, it is the players for whom Sandra feels, Lions and Broncos alike.
“For all we hurt, they must hurt tenfold,” she said.
If they too suffered broken hearts, the Broncos were nursing them behind brave faces.
Though not quite ebullient, the players and their coach, Kevin Walters, were dignified in defeat as they fronted their faithful on Monday morning. Walters spoke of his love of club, fans and city; Ezra Mam of living the childhood dream of a grand final hat-trick. Captain Adam Reynolds told the fans their presence was helping salve the still raw hurt.
Healing was in the air at the Riverstage on Monday, and with it the first buds of hope.
Samantha Robison said she’d brought her son Will, 18, and Ella, 12, from Browns Plains after all were left shattered on Sunday night.
“It was a rollercoaster of a season,” she said. “So this is the closure I needed to get ready for next season. And I’m feeling optimistic.”
For Ky Bond, 19, and sister Grace, 8, that pride was felt even more keenly through their familial relations to stars Mam and Selwyn Cobbo.
Yes, it was a tough day to be a Queenslander, said their mum, Kate Bond.
“But we are a tough mob up here.”