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'It's probably the biggest thing for Toowoomba since winning in '96'

Just under 25 years ago, Toowoomba was sent into pandemonium when the Clydesdales defended their way to victory, claiming the first ever Queensland Cup at the old Lang Park.

Fans can still remember the epic 8-6 contest, which holds the record for the lowest score in a Cup decider, where Redcliffe were denied twice in the closing minutes by the Toowoomba's gritty defence.

It was a performance that forged history and created Queensland Rugby League folklore that is still talked about to this day, two-and-a-half decades later.

One man who remembers the day fondly is Rex Zeeman, who was the Clydesdales team manager and also happens to be involved with Toowoomba in this weekend's XXXX League Championship grand final against Brisbane, a quarter of a century on from that famous moment he witnessed from the sidelines.

"It's probably the biggest thing for Toowoomba since winning in '96," Zeeman recalled, describing this weekend's state final to be played at North Ipswich Reserve.

"I’ve been trying to think about other significant things, but 1996 was big because it was the first Queensland Cup and it was a side (where) everyone but two people were from the Toowoomba local competition, so it was basically a representative team which is similar to this.

"You try to think of when Toowoomba last played Brisbane for instance, apart from a club and it’s been a long time, probably even going back to the Bulimba Cup."

Brisbane Poinsettias v Toowoomba Clydesdales

The historic occasion meant everything to people from the Darling Downs who were there in numbers to support their local team. 

"Well back then, it meant everything as far as rugby league was concerned," Zeeman said.

"We had struggled for years, being in the doldrums, but to go into that new competition and assemble a group of blokes who were from Toowoomba and from the local Toowoomba competition and put them together and go down and win that game against Redcliffe on August 31, 1996, at the old Lang Park was very significant.

"That game attracted 6500 people. I’ve read reports of around 12-14 busloads of people going down from Toowoomba.

"Several hundred people from Toowoomba went down and it captured the imagination of the town and rugby league community."

 

I never get sick of seeing this ! Clydesdales from 1996

Posted by TRL - Toowoomba Rugby Football League Inc on Sunday, May 3, 2020

Although the former Toowoomba administrator believes this weekend's match may not have quite the same cut-through as the Clydesdales' success in the Queensland Cup, the match still holds the same significance.

"To be honest, there’s been a low profile build-up if you like and I’m not sure if people really understand what’s on the line in terms of this game ... because we’ve proven we’re the best team in the QRL Central region by winning the 47th Battalion," Zeeman said.

"We’ve then gone on in a country point of view and played the QRL North region champions Mackay and beaten them, so that’s a massive achievement.

"To have the opportunity to play a Brisbane team and maybe be crowned the best league in Queensland is a major milestone, but I’m not quite sure if it’s the same as '96 where it was a club week-in, week-out.

"I think we would’ve played 16 games and semi-finals which we lost, so we had to play in the preliminary final at Lang Park and then we went and played in the grand final.

"I suppose it was a little different in the past because we were always in the paper, always had good crowds no matter what the weather conditions.

"It could’ve been a cold, foggy Saturday night in Toowoomba and yet the grandstands would be full because they wanted to support the local people.

"It would’ve actually been good to play the game in Toowoomba to test the waters. I know those who are directly involved with the team and the players, they’re excited about it, but the general community… I don’t know what they’d say if I went down the street and asked 'what do you think about Toowoomba playing Brisbane this weekend?'

"They’d probably look at you and say 'what are you talking about?'"

Toowoomba after their victory against Mackay earlier this year. Photo: Cameron Stallard / QRL
Toowoomba after their victory against Mackay earlier this year. Photo: Cameron Stallard / QRL

Regardless of level of general awareness of the game, the clash means a lot to the players who wear the famous Clydesdales jersey and who are now only one step away from being crowned state champions.

"It’s very, very special and I’m very excited about it," Zeeman said.

"It’s a representative team and these blokes play week-in, week-out here at this competition and they’ve put their hand up to play for the Toowoomba Clydesdales which is a famous name in rugby league terms.

"They want to go down and play Brisbane and beat them and I know when we came back from Mackay, we had players who were busting to have another go and the biggest difficulty we’ve had to face this week is that we have 23 or 24 blokes who have represented at 47th Battalion or Mackay, so it’s been tough on who to leave out or who not to take.

"That’s probably the biggest decision we’ve had to make in terms of the weekend.

"Some of its been made easy with injuries and suspensions and it’s a damn good squad, so it’s a shame some blokes have to miss out, but there's the facts and that’s sport.

"If we can make history, they’ll still be part of that squad and getting the historical win."

Watch the decider live and free this Saturday, July 24, from 3pm at North Ipswich Reserve on QRL.com.au and the QRL Facebook page.