Adam Blair and Sam Thaiday had everything to play for in 2015, now they could finish the season as an unlikely pair of premiership heroes.
Regular backrower Thaiday was playing for his future at the start of the year and once joked that he would play anywhere for Brisbane – “except front row”.
After going missing for three seasons at Wests Tigers, the ex-Melbourne gun got off to an inauspicious start in Brisbane, with a one hit-up game in March.
Yet they have emerged as the key to Brisbane’s hopes of winning their seventh title and first since 2006.
And all with Queensland prop Josh McGuire (Achilles) sidelined since June.
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett has diplomatically described his bushy-haired front row duo as “different” to the man mountains who inspired their last triumph in 2006 – Shane Webcke and Petero Civoniceva.
Brisbane hooker Andrew McCullough was just glad they were on his side.
“You can’t win games without quality front rowers and thankfully we have two of the best,” he said.
Kiwi international Blair was one of the world’s best props at Melbourne, appearing in three grand finals in his first four NRL seasons.
He was in the Storm side that lost the 2006 final to Brisbane while Melbourne had their 2007 and 2009 premierships struck from the record books due to their salary cap controversy.
“It doesn’t really worry me. I doesn’t matter any more,” Blair said of his past.
Three frustrating years at Wests Tigers did little to enhance Blair’s reputation – and initially it seemed his move north to Brisbane would do the same.
Dubbed “Teddy Blair” after his one hit up effort – reportedly the worst effort by an NRL prop in 20 years – the Kiwi front-rower has become the Broncos’ key forward, providing the hard edge they have lacked without McGuire.
“He has brought a lot to our pack,” Brisbane backrower Alex Glenn said.
“He does the little things you don’t measure or see.
“And he’s so great controlling the ruck with his wrestle game from his Storm days.”
Blair will run out into his fourth grand final but it marks his first playoff campaign in six seasons.
He has formed a stunning double act with “fro bro” Thaiday, who also had an inauspicious season start.
He was dropped to the bench by game two – Blair’s infamous one hit-up match against Cronulla.
History shows Thaiday made his stand in round six, bullying Roosters enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in Brisbane’s 22-18 golden point win in a display that Bennett later admitted earned him a new contract.
He re-signed for another three years earlier this month.
“Games are won or lost in the middle,” Brisbane backrower Corey Parker said.
“But we have guys who can lay a foundation around that will hopefully win the game.”