NRL grand final: Kevin Walters hopes grand final loss motivates young Broncos

Broncos coach Kevin Walters spent Saturday afternoon watching the Brisbane Lions lose to Collingwood in an epic AFL grand final that went down to the wire.

After suffering the same fate for his own team 24 hours later in an even more heartbreaking finish, he’s confident it has the potential to galvanise his side as it did for Penrith three years ago.

Brisbane will have to wait a little longer to end a premiership drought that stretches back to 2006, but it’s clear they have the weaponry and the game plan to match it with the Panthers after they led 24-8 midway through the second half.

It took 20 minutes of magic from Nathan Cleary to conjure the biggest comeback in grand final history, with Broncos players shattered in the sheds afterwards as they reflected on the one that got away.

“I think the whole stadium thought we’d done enough, except for a few people,” Walters said following the 26-24 loss.

“It’s something we can get better at next year, but right now it’s a pretty empty feeling.

“I’m OK myself, but I just feel for those boys in there who gave so much, not just tonight, but all season.

“I watched the AFL grand final (on Saturday) and I thought that’s not a nice way to lose for the Lions, but here we are sitting here in the same situation.

“It’s hard to get your head around what actually happened.

“It’s very disappointing. I feel for all the players in there that gave so much, but it just wasn’t enough in the end.”

Cleary’s incredible finish to the game was the best individual performance in the grand final after Ezra Mam threatened to steal the show with three tries in the space of 10 minutes that had the engraver working feverishly on the Clive Churchill Medal.

It was a phenomenal burst from a 20-year-old who is seen as a star of the future but arrived in style on the game’s biggest stage with a performance his coach described as “superhuman”.

“We know he’s a talented little player and he showed that on the big stage,” Walters said.

“I’m not going to single out anyone because everyone was trying really, really hard. It’s just sometimes the footy gods take everything away from you, and they did that to us tonight.”

Sunday’s result was the second heartbreaking grand final defeat for skipper Adam Reynolds, who also fell two points short against Penrith in the 2021 decider.

A loss like that can go two ways, with some clubs failing to recover from the hurt, but the Panthers have shown how powerful it can be with the mountain men winning every grand final since they lost to Melbourne in 2020.

“You never want to feel that way, so you can use it as motivation,” Reynolds said.

“We’ve got a good group of fellas in there that work extremely hard every day and they want to get better every day.”

Blowing a big lead will eat away for quite some time for a team that felt it was good enough to beat the best team of the NRL era, but it shouldn’t overshadow how far the Broncos have come in such a short space of time.

This is a club that claimed the wooden spoon three years ago and then capitulated late to somehow miss the finals 12 months ago when they looked set to finish in the top four.

They’ve got a core group of stars with Mam, Reynolds, Payne Haas, Reece Walsh and Patrick Carrigan more than capable of exacting revenge next year, but it won’t mask just how painful Sunday’s loss was.

“Once the dust settles, everyone in that room can be extremely proud of where the club is now compared to where it was before all these guys got their hands on the club,” Walters said.

“It’s just remarkable, absolutely remarkable (how far we’ve come).

“Over the next couple of days we can sit back and be really proud of that, but we wanted to win a premiership this year and we didn’t get it so that pisses us off.”

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