While the NRL world is lost in Nathan Cleary fever after he orchestrated the biggest ever grand final comeback, it’s hard not to feel for the Broncos fans.
Leading 24-8 thanks to Ezra Mam’s 10 minute hat-trick, the Broncos had one hand on the club’s first premiership trophy since 2006 when the wheels fell off.
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It may be cold comfort for the Broncos, it was one of the great grand finals but it will be forever remembered for Cleary’s heroics rather than the young Brisbane side’s brilliant post halftime burst.
At the break, the Panthers led 8-6 before Mam’s three try burst looked to have blown the two-time defending champions out of the game.
And three-time premiership winner and 160-game veteran with the Broncos Gorden Tallis was riding the wave of emotions.
Tallis, who was part of the Broncos’ 1997 Super League win, 1998 and 2000 premierships, including winning the Clive Churchill Medal in ‘98, celebrated wildly when Mam scored his third try.
Former NRL stars Willie Mason and Justin Horo were filming the celebrations on their Levels Network Instagram page and showed the wild celebrations from the box.
Mason screamed: “Oh my f**king god”, before Tallis high fived the pair.
He shouted: “That is the best. Ezra, I want your baby!”
But there were two more videos to come as Cleary orchestrated the all-time comeback.
Tallis was a lot quieter, arms folded in the next video as Horo called Cleary “an animal”, admitting he had goosebumps after the madness.
He still had a smile on his face, but one that was more ‘it’s not over’ with two minutes still to play rather than any sign of confidence.
The final video is at full-time when former Panther, now Wests Tigers captain Api Koroisau celebrated with Horo.
Horo called the Panthers “the greatest team of all-time”.
But Tallis was in the background in disbelief as the siren sounds.
If you’ve ever supported a team that’s lost a grand final or if you’re team’s never made a grand final, Tallis’ face tells you everything you need to know.
On the plus side, Cleary said the 2020 loss to the Storm had helped manifest the epic 2023 comeback — voicing the old adage that you have to lose one to win one.
“I just think when things weren’t going right I just dropped my head and was in a haze,” Cleary said of the 2020 defeat. “What happened in 2020 readied me for tonight.
“Tonight when things weren’t going right, I was playing well. I still felt clear in what I needed to do.
“I felt this urge within me to take the game on. Where in 2020 I was probably shying away from it a bit just trying not to make mistakes.”
Broncos fans will be hoping they follow Cleary’s lead, rather than the Eels’ lead, as the 2022 grand finalists missed the 2023 finals altogether.