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BRL grand final: Bulimba eye history, Seagulls plot return to top

Minor premiers Bulimba will be out to win the BRL for the first time in the reformed competition's short history on Saturday, with Wynnum Manly Juniors chasing a fourth title for a Seagulls line-up since the premier A grade league resumed in 2015.

Bulimba started the season ending ensuring defending premiers West Brisbane would not extend their dominance, and after 18 rounds they found themselves alone at the top of the ladder, winning 12 of their 17 games.

Their +222 points differential was bettered only by the Seagulls +268, and in the regular season the combatants had one win apiece. 

All this for the Bulldogs on the back of going down to beaten 2022 grand finalists in the preliminary final, a stage they were able to skip this year in beating the Seagulls 32-20 at John Fredricks Oval two weeks ago. 

Bulimba has strength across the park with a massive mobile forward pack and some serious wheels outside.

Bulimba Valleys Bulldogs squad
1. Tahj Wood 2. Nathaneal McGavin 3. Saimone Ahomana 4. Jack Stafford 5. Raimone Philitoga 6. Bradley Russell 7. Hayden Herbert 8. Thomas O'Keefe 9. Jack Miers 10. Jack Natapu 11. Izaac Skyring (C) 12. Lachlan Pope 13. Fakahoko Teutau 14. Emmanuel Kiddie 15. Samuel Wallis 16. Zakaria Taibi 17. Riley Leota 18. Anthony Cheng
Wynnum Manly Juniors squad
1. Jalen Reweti 2. Ryan O'Keefe 3. Willie Malala 4. Trevor Monaei 5. Dylan Brassel 6. Timothy Tupou 7. Kobe Martin 8. Connor Brebner 9. Savaan Tahere (C) 10. Lachlan Lee 11. James Robinson 12. Kelepi Faukafa 13. Nathan Ward 14. Justin Smith 15. Blake Pyle 16. Ethan Malt 20. Simione Fatafehi

But Wynnum Manly Juniors coach Jason Harris has a side that is more than capable of adding to the silverware cabinet.

They have plenty of experience, led by captain Savaan Tahere, and if the Seagulls can start well, they can take the top step of the podium.

They have try-scorers from one to 17, a back five who love to do the tough stuff, and green and red wall of defence to call on when the going gets tough.

Wynnum Manly Juniors winger Ryan O'Keefe hopes the third time's a charm for him on Saturday, going down in his two previous grand final appearances in Seagulls colours - the latest last year and the previous with the 2019 Hastings Deering Colts.

"Words can't describe if we get to hold that trophy up but it's gonna be a tough game and we're going to put in a lot of hard work and we're not gonna go away from it," he said.

"We're really down to get into a dog fight and really take it to (Bulimba)."

Ryan O'Keefe (right) consoling with teammates after the 2022 defeat. Photo: Vanessa Hafner
Ryan O'Keefe (right) consoling with teammates after the 2022 defeat. Photo: Vanessa Hafner

O'Keefe said the bond between the players who remained for 2022 had only grown stronger, priming the side for this occasion.

"Just the bunch of blokes we are playing with is just great bunch of boys," he said.

"I think we really worked hard through the pre-season this year and we've all come together really as a club."

The best part is the community notices too, getting around any Seagull in a way that made them "the best support crew in the whole of Brisbane".

"So hopefully we can get the win. It would mean a lot," O'Keefe said.

Wynnum Manly Juniors captain Savaan Tahere passes from dummy half in the 2022 GF
Wynnum Manly Juniors captain Savaan Tahere passes from dummy half in the 2022 GF

For Bulimba captain Izaac Skyring, the opportunity to lead the blue-and-white into this day means the world.

The second rower is the longest surviving Bulldog, having endured the harrowing 2020 campaign that ended with a sole win and a wooden spoon.

The transition has been stark, but the pain would be all worth it to hold the trophy on Saturday evening.

"My first year was the Covid year and I was 18, getting pushed up against a few older boys and probably a little bit out of my depth," Skyring said.

Izaac Skyring congratulates a teammate against West Brisbane Panthers earlier this year
Izaac Skyring congratulates a teammate against West Brisbane Panthers earlier this year

"We were getting pumped every single week and were a team that, I don't even know if we necessarily deserved to be in the BRL at that point.

"But we turned up every week and developed quite a good culture and that's what I loved about the club and then that's just developed throughout the years.

"It's a club that I'm super proud to be a part of and to being elevated into that captaincy role it's super exciting for me and, yeah, I can't wait.

"My whole motto this year has been just to be going out and leading the boys, so if I can set the standard on our energy and on our intent, I know that the boys will get behind me and follow me and back me in."

An in-your-face, passionate leader, Skyring said he wouldn't be able to go his way about skippering this side without a number of leaders alongside him.

Brisbane Tigers affiliated Fakahoko 'Huskie' Teutau is one who brings the title-winning experience - and a few laughs - from Ipswich A grade and the Ipswich Jets' 2015 successes, while also knowing the pain of two lost BRL grand finals.

"He's massive for the group. We love having him around," Skyring said of Teutau.

Huskie in his Jets days. Bulimba is relying on that premiership experience on Saturday
Huskie in his Jets days. Bulimba is relying on that premiership experience on Saturday

"He's always good playing around at training. He's always posting good TikTok dance moves and his gym sessions as well outside of training, so it's always a good laugh."

Someone who knows how much it means to Bulimba to be in this position will be sitting on the opposing bench. Wynnum Manly Juniors coach Jason Harris was part of Bulimba's staff throughout the 2010s.

While getting the chocolates after missing out last year would be nice, but he's relishing the chance to soak up the grand final day experience, which he probably didn't take the time to enjoy enough in 2022.

"I'm grateful to be here, to be honest with you," Harris said.

"The victory would be unreal mate, but at the same time I understand it doesn't always end in the way you want it."

He said stopping Bulimba's middle would be the best path to reducing the effectiveness of an elite spine.

"You've got to stop their middle playing fast. Obviously off the back of that you have Jack Miers and Tahj (Wood), Herbert and Russell. They will slice up most sides, and their back five is outstanding.

"It's Hostplus Cup quality and you've got a limit it at the end of the day... and try and win the battle in every contest you can."

Bulimba coach Mitch Edwards said it was simply all about effort if they were to achieve the dream and sending the Seagulls home with nothing in back-to-back years.

"I have a fairly good idea of how they're going to play their game, but they're so good at executing it that it's up to you to be better to stop what they want to do," he said.

"They're all about momentum and they're all about effort and if my guys don't come up with 80 minutes, they won't get the result."

The teams named on Thursday are subject to change by kickoff, with the Seagulls centre Luke Maddaford racing the clock and both sides a chance of allocations from their respective Hostplus Cup affiliates, who are both in preliminary finals.

Gates open at Totally Workwear Stadium at 10.30am Saturday.

Entry is $10 for adults, and free for children under 17 and pensioners.

BRL Grand Final - full schedule

Venue: Totally Workwear Stadium, Langlands Park

12pm: Under 20 - Brighton Roosters v Carina Juniors

2pm: Reserve grade - Wynnum Manly Juniors v West Brisbane Panthers

4pm: BRL Premier A grade - Bulimba Valleys Bulldogs v Wynnum Manly Juniors

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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