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Queensland rugby league fans have often declared the state is the true heartland of the game and plenty of eyes will be on fixated on the football being played in the capital city tomorrow night when the Dolphins host the Broncos in the first ‘Battle’ match in Brisbane.

It's the hottest ticket in town, with the sold out sign officially being put up 24 hours out from the game, and fans will need to decide if they will be wearing their maroon, white and gold; or their red, white and gold jerseys to Suncorp Stadium, a home venue the two teams share.

The Dolphins have named six players – Jamayne Isaako, Brenko Lee, Tesi Niu, Sean O’Sullivan, Kodi Nikorima and Jarrod Wallace – who used to play for the Broncos, and in one of the game’s biggest storylines, former Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett is again at the helm of an expansion club, facing off against his old team and his former halfback in current Broncos coach Kevin Walters, adding yet another layer of intrigue to what is already a key contest between the two undefeated, top-of-the-table teams.

However, when it comes to the two coaches – it’s almost a rivalry that dare not speak its name.

Despite the interest and excitement building around the game all week, both Bennett and Walters have been performing a delicate waltz to try and avoid adding any additional fuel to the already raging fire, doing their best to avoid speaking about – and in Brisbane’s case, often naming – their opposition.

Wayne Bennett and Kevin Walters celebrate a  premiership victory together in 2000.
Wayne Bennett and Kevin Walters celebrate a premiership victory together in 2000. ©NRL Images

During his side’s captain’s run on Thursday morning, Bennett was in no mood to entertain any questions about anything that didn’t directly concern his Dolphins team.

“Look, I'm not talking about judiciary and I'm not talking about the Broncos,” Bennett said to assembled media who had pushed for comment about his star forward and key enforcer Felise Kaufusi being ruled out for four matches and how that would change how his side would approach the Broncos.

“I'm here as the Dolphins coach, so if someone asks me something about the Dolphins, I will give you an answer.”

Walters – who won five premierships under the coaching of Bennett – initially tried to downplay the upcoming occasion, saying he hadn’t noticed a “different vibe” around a regular NRL Round 4 game.

“To be honest, not really, no, I mean, my role at the club is to coach the boys and I go from my house to training and back to my house,” Walters said before attending ‘The Battle’ luncheon on Wednesday, which was held to help promote the game.

“But I understand there's a lot of news around about this week's game and it's great for the game. We're very privileged and excited to be part of the whole occasion. Not just this week, but every week (there are questions about the game) when you're at the Broncos, it's a big club.

“We're a big organisation and there's a good buzz around the city from a Bronco point of view from the way we started our season and Friday night's game is another game against another rival.”

Walters: It's going to be a great occasion for rugby league

The reality however, is that this is far from being ‘just another game’ and both coaches know it, with some subtle (and not so subtle) remarks showing that the match and the result will mean plenty.

And despite wanting to focus on their own teams and highlight their run-of-the-mill preparations, the sense of being part of history cannot be ignored either, with Bennett saying that while the way he ended his tenure at the Broncos would not provide him with any extra motivation to win, he was looking forward to the seeing a new cross-town rivalry blossom.

“I'm really, really pleased for the game, I think it's a magnificent promotion tomorrow night,” Bennett said.

“The decision by the NRL to put the Dolphins in and to be here in week four and have the whole state and probably the whole country engaged in this game tomorrow … from that point of view, it's outstanding and I am just pleased to be a little part of it. 

“(To me, tomorrow night will mean) a great deal, rugby league’s been a big part of my life and I have done the best I can to make a contribution to it as a player, as a coach …

“I don't think [Brisbane Broncos founders] Paul Morgan and Barry Maranta and Steve Williams and Gary Balkin in 1988 (would imagine this); they'd even be proud about tomorrow night because they were the foundation of the Broncos, and they have gone on to be a great club.

“And I hope the Dolphins go on to be that great club as well. I'm sure they will, so it's pretty special.”

Amidst the master and apprentice story lines, and the marketing manoeuvres performed by both clubs to drum up interest and the attempts to rebrand the stadium as the ‘real’ home of one club over another, there also remains plenty of admiration between the two coaches themselves.

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While Walters had tried to avoid spending too much time referencing his opposition, when it came to Bennett, he had to pay respect.

“We knew that the Dolphins and Wayne would get away to a good start,” Walters said.

“He's been a great coach, history shows that; he's walked in the shoes he's walking in now before at the Broncos, so it's no surprise that they've had a good start to the season… but I'm more concerned with us and our start, which has been really good.”

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Bennett too was willing to praise the start the Broncos had produced to the season so far and the role Walters had played in getting the team to that level.

“They are pretty dangerous right across the field, they have got some wonderful players in a whole lot of positions there, so they’ll be quite a challenge …,” Bennett said.

“Of course I am pleased for him, we have a great relationship and that will remain regardless of what the scoreboard is tomorrow night or what the future holds for either of us.” 

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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