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Hostplus Cup grand final preview

It will be 220 days since the 2023 Hostplus Cup season kicked off when Burleigh Bears and Brisbane Tigers run onto Kayo Stadium, ready to battle it out for this year's trophy.

It's been months and months of blood, sweat and tears for the two clubs and come Sunday, just one will be crowned premiers.

Minor premiers Burleigh are coming into the clash on the back of a massive 57-8 preliminary final victory over the Wynnum Manly Seagulls while the Tigers qualified after a tough, gritty battle against the Central Queensland Capras.

Check out your grand final 'stats pack' with all of the numbers you need to know for this weekend's games, courtesy of Brad Tallon, as well as a Q&A with grand final coaches, Luke Burt and Matt Church.

L-R: Burleigh halfback Guy Hamilton, Burleigh captain Sami Sauiluma, Burleigh coach Luke Burt, Brisbane coach Matt Church, Brisbane captain Ryley Jacks and Brisbane centre Solomona Faataape. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL
L-R: Burleigh halfback Guy Hamilton, Burleigh captain Sami Sauiluma, Burleigh coach Luke Burt, Brisbane coach Matt Church, Brisbane captain Ryley Jacks and Brisbane centre Solomona Faataape. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL

Hostplus Cup grand final

Burleigh Bears v Brisbane Tigers

Head-to-head (overall): Burleigh 29, Brisbane 22, drawn 2
Head-to-head (finals): Burleigh 3, Brisbane 3
Last meeting: Burleigh 20 def Brisbane 16 in Round 7, 2023
Broadcast: Fox League and Kayo Freebies from 5pm
Live on SENQ with Drury Forbes, Andrew McCullough and Nathan Cross. Coverage starts from 4pm with Sydney and Gold Coast taking the call from 6pm

  • This is the 27th Cup grand final and the seventh at Kayo Stadium. Burleigh have played in a premiership decider twice before at the ground - a loss in 2003 and a victory in 2019 - while the Tigers have never played a grand final at Kayo Stadium
  • This is the 11th time that the grand final has been played between the first-placed team (Bears) and the third-placed team (Tigers) after the regular season. The team that came first - the minor premiers - have won seven of these encounters
  • This is the 20th time the minor premiers have made the grand final, winning 11. The third-placed team has been in 16 grand finals, winning five
  • Burleigh have won the past three meetings between these two sides
  • The Bears and Tigers have met once before in a grand final, clashing in 2004 with Burleigh walking away victorious with a 22-18 win. Shane O’Flanagan  scored the match winner after 17 minutes of extra time
  • Luke Burt is the 18th coach to make the grand final in his first year coaching. Ten of the 18 have gone on to win. Burt has coached 23 Cup games with 17 wins, one draw and four losses, giving him a 76 per cent success record
  • Matt Church is the first coach to make a grand final after coaching a different club the previous year. Church coached the PNG Hunters from 2020 to 2022. This is his 60th game as a Cup coach. Church has a 52.5 per cent success record with 30 wins, two draws and 27 losses
  • Both teams have won their last five games. This is only the second time both teams have gone into the grand final on the back of at least 5 wins. The other occasion was in 2015 when the Ipswich Jets (who finished third) beat the Townsville Blackhawks (minor premiers) 32-20
  • Burleigh playmaker Tyrone Roberts and Brisbane backrower Leivaha Pulu will both be playing in their third consecutive grand final, having both played for Norths Devils in their 2021 and 2022 wins. Fifteen players have previously played in three a row, but none have ever won three in a row
  • This is the Bears’ seventh Cup grand final. They have four premierships (1999, 2004, 2016 and 2019)
  • This is the Tigers’ sixth grand final. They have lost all previous five finals in 1997, 2004 (to Burleigh), 2013, 2014 and 2018

Coach Q&A

It’s been 10 months of hard work and preparation to get this point. How does it feel to be one of the 2023 grand finalists?

Burleigh Bears coach Luke Burt: It's super exciting. Everyone's goal, I'm sure, is to play this Sunday so to be able to know you've worked from November last year and to be here and have this opportunity, it's really exciting.

Brisbane Tigers coach Matt Church: If someone had said 12 months ago that you'd be in a grand final, I certainly would have taken it but I'm not quite sure I would have believed them in my first year here. We've had a fair bit of disruption but one core thing we've done is work hard. We have good people in the organisation and that's key in setting ourselves up and getting ourselves into this position.

What would you say is the biggest thing you’ve learnt this season?

Burt: There's a lot of things I've learnt. You're always learning. There's no real exact point but we came up with a philosophy about eight weeks ago to really change our mentality towards the game and I think it's starting to pay dividends. We were nowhere near our best for three quarters of the year, to be honest. We just sort of hung in there and found a way to secure wins and we weren't really happy. But we tweaked things a few weeks ago and I think that mentality has really helped us in the last eight weeks.

Church: I think I learnt a hell of a lot from the Hunters and I've brought that over. Culture, connection are really huge and I can't thank enough the players they had there that relocated for two years (to Australia). They taught me so much. I probably got more out of them than they learnt from me. I've been able to adapt that into what we do here. I said recently about Corey (Thompson) that he's worked hard to get everywhere that he's gotten and I think I've done the same with my coaching journey. I'm grounded in hard work. The biggest takeaways is just the learnings that I got out of that Hunters experience and to mould that into a different dynamic in a group. One thing I want to do is have good people at the club and invite good people to come to our club. Then hopefully, off the back of that, the culture and hard work provides us with success.

When you look at your squad, how do you feel to know what you’ve achieved together?

Burt: I'm super proud of them. I could not be any prouder of them. They talk about coaches but these players make coaches look good. They've been fantastic. They've led a lot of the mentality, they've embraced what we've tried to bring to the group, but it's all the players. They're a super group to be involved with and you can't ask much more of this playing group at the Bears. I'm so proud to be part of them and involved with them. They're so good.

Church: I'm super proud, not only of our squad, but of all the club. To have both grades on grand final day is a huge achievement. I thanked (Colts coach Mark Gliddon) Gliddo at the start of the week about backing my vision and getting on board. I know at times I can be a little bit of left field and want things a certain way. But everyone's jumped on the back of that vision and that's not just the coaching staff but filters all the way up to our CEO and our board. 

Luke, the Bears are aiming for their third premiership in seven seasons. With your BMD Premiership side also winning this year, what would it mean to bring the title back for the club as a whole?

Burt: It would be huge for the club. We have a fantastic culture at the club that drives that mentality of being there on the big day. It would be a special moment to be able to bring it back with this playing group that we've been involved with. But there's a lot of people that work behind-the-scenes that you don't realise do a lot of work towards this team. The club, Leagues club, the sponsors, our board members, the fans... there's a lot of people behind this team. To bring it back for all of them, it would be a good reward for everyone's hard work.

Burt fronts the media. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL
Burt fronts the media. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL

Matt, if the Tigers win it would break a long title drought and it would be the first premiership in the Cup era. What would that mean to the club?

Church: It means everything, to be honest. I sat down when I interviewed for the role and at the end of it, I made mention that I wanted to be the coach to break the drought. It would mean a huge thing for me personally but for the club, for our long-suffering fans, we're hoping we take that this weekend.

Church fronts the media. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL
Church fronts the media. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL

What are you expecting from your opposition on Sunday?

Burt: A really tough match. They've got a lot of (Melbourne) Storm players so with that Storm mentality comes a really tough, gritty match. They've got some really powerful, classy forwards that can play a bit of second phase football. And obviously their halves in Ryley Jacks and we're expecting (Jonah) Pezet to play, they're super classy and will bring a lot of confidence to their side. Their back five ran for 970 metres last week so they're a dangerous back five.

Church: The Bears are a phenomenal footy side and they have been for a long period of time. That core group of players - Sami (Sauiluma), Guy Hamilton, Pat Politoni - the biggest compliment I could pay them is that if you got to pick a Cup side, you'd like to pick that core group of players. They're strong across the park. There's certain points and areas of the field that we've got to be mindful of. Their lightning quick fullback and what Guy can do, we have to be on our toes throughout the 80 minutes and we're hoping to be a little bit disruptive to how they like to play. Hopefully that works in our favour.

What is that you need to do come Sunday?

Burt: Going off the back of how dangerous their back five are and classy their halves and middles are, we need to bring them off their try line as much as possible and really focus on our defence. We can't have any lapses. You can be good for three or four tackles but if you have one tackle off, they've got hookers that will run from dummy-half, they've got middles that will expose you, the halves that can move the ball with real explosive outside backs. We really need to make sure they're receiving the ball where we want to defend.

Church: It's going to be an 80-minute performance. Our (preliminary final) performance against the Capras, our attack was not where we would like it to be. We missed a couple of opportunities and certainly ones closer to the back end of the game to land a knockout blow. But this weekend, it's very similar. I mentioned after the game that it might not have been premiership attack last week but it was certainly premiership defence. We have to defend our backsides off and give ourselves a chance in that final few minutes to nail the game.

We’ve spoken about what this would mean to the club and the team, but what would a grand final win mean to you personally?

Burt: It would mean the world to me. It's more the playing group that makes it so special, not so much as an individual coach. The way this group has embraced what we've done and taken me on, it would be really special to be able to bring it home because of the relationship I've built with these blokes.

Church: It would mean the world to me. We don't do it for personal accolades but it would mean everything to me if we could get the job done on Sunday. I would be so proud of the group. I'm not a person that likes to put themselves forward but definitely I'd have a tear in my eye. I think I've got that now just thinking about it. On a personal level, it would be reward for the sacrifice that you make as a coach. Your family probably make the ultimate sacrifice because you don't get to spend time with them so yeah, it would mean the world to me for that and hopefully it would make them proud.

To snap up your seats to the 2023 Hostplus Cup and Hastings Deering Colts grand finals, click here.

For more information on grand final day, click here.

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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