Suncorp Stadium has supplanted Ballymore as the field of dreams for Brisbane’s top club players as they strive for a special grand final buzz on September 5.
A crowded weekend of sudden-death semi-finals on Saturday and Sunday at suburban Ashgrove will only catapult the winners into the Premier Rugby decider.
Super Rugby duo Hamish Stewart (Reds) and Joe Powell (Rebels) are the unlikely partnership for Brothers with the capability to upset front-running University of Queensland at 3pm on Saturday.
On Sunday, flyhalf Carter Gordon will be at the helm for Wests against GPS at the same venue from 3pm. Wests are a big 80 minutes away from winning through to the club’s first grand final since 2006.
None of the four sides have played since July 24 because of COVID-19 lockdowns, cancelled rounds and health-related restrictions which have thrown a curveball of disruptions into the build-up.
Above all, the players are pumped just to get this chance to finish the Allsports Physiotherapy Hospital Challenge Cup where their cousins in Sydney have had the Shute Shield cancelled.
With the dilapidated McLean Stand now levelled, Ballymore is out of play as a club venue until possibly 2023 when the shiny new National Rugby Training Centre will be standing in its place.
The Queensland Rugby Union has shrewdly booked club rugby’s peak day for Suncorp Stadium where the Premier Rugby, women’s and Colts 1 grand finals will be staged on Sunday week.
Interestingly, it prompted a question this week to the tyros and club leaders of today on just where Suncorp Stadium and Ballymore sit in their psyche.
“It’s exciting, extra motivation for sure and a long time coming with this opportunity for club rugby at Suncorp Stadium,” Uni captain Pat Morrey said.
“I’d say Ballymore is the spiritual home of rugby in this country but, since 2011, a lot of young kids who watched the Super Rugby final win by the Reds that year have become the guys playing club footy today.
“To them, Suncorp Stadium is the home of the Reds and a lot of big rugby moments.
“The chance to play at Suncorp Stadium is a big deal.”
UQ have an astonishing tag-team at hooker with two former Wallabies, James Hanson and Stephen Moore, to share the 80 minutes.
Brothers will field close to their strongest line-up of the season and wildcard Powell, at halfback, could sting UQ most of all.
The quality four-Test Wallaby is living short-term in Brisbane and has played four games since linking with the Brethren through former Brumbies team-mate Ben Hyne.
In-form Paddy James will play flyhalf while Stewart will be a strong figure at inside centre. Brothers coach Brendan Gabbett has also swung classy Lawson Creighton straight into fullback for his first game since a slight bone fracture and high-ankle sprain in mid-April.
In the pack, Reds lock Ryan Smith and prop Harry Hoopert will add starch.
“Uni are obviously an experienced team in finals and have shown it over the past five years,” Brothers centre Hudson Creighton said.
“With the COVID stoppages to the season, it’s taken the momentum out of every team and levelled the playing field."
The chance to play on Suncorp Stadium is a real thing because he's only got as close as Reds' warm-ups to this point.
“Not everyone gets to play at Suncorp Stadium and everyone aspires to," Creighton said.
“Playing 80 minutes of footy there in a grand final would be next level and it might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing for club rugby with Ballymore being redeveloped.
“You don’t want to be coming off the field in a semi this weekend thinking ‘what if?’. And that idea of getting to Suncorp will be a good incentive in the dying stages.”
Gordon will form a slick midfield partnership with Reds inside centre Isaac Henry, who made such a big mark in the Reds’ win over the Chiefs in Townsville this season.
It’s still unsure whether new Rebels halfback Moses Sorovi will be back in time to play any role for Wests on Sunday because he has to get back from a family wedding in the far north of the state. In-form Joel Atkins has impressed as his replacement for much of the season.
GPS captain Michael Richards said grand final thoughts could wait.
“More importantly, we are thinking of playing a semi-final at home at Ashgrove for probably the first and only time,” the non-stop backrower said.
“We had a physical training session with a fair bit of contact last Sunday when we came back together as a team to make sure we got the intensity up.
“I think all clubs are heading into the unknown a bit this weekend. It’s just good to have this chance to finish the season the right way.”
Queensland Premier Rugby 2021 Finals Series
Saturday at Norths Rugby Club (1 v 4)
Fifth Grade | 8:30am – Field 1 – Wests v Brothers
Colts 3 | 8:30am – Field 2 – Brother v Wests
Fourth Grade | 10:00am – Field 1 – UQ v GPS
Colts 2 | 10:00am – Field 2 – Brothers v Bond
Third Grade | 11:30am – Field 2 – Souths v GPS
Colts 1 | 11:30pm – Field 1 – Easts v Bond
Saturday at GPS Rugby Club (1 v 4)
Second Grade | 1:30pm – Field 1 – UQ v Brothers
Premier Grade | 3:00pm – Field 1 – UQ v Brothers
Women’s | 5:00pm – Field 1 – GPS v Bond
Sunday at Norths Rugby Club (2 v 3)
Fifth Grade | 8:30am – Field 1 – Souths v Easts
Colts 3 | 8:30am – Field 2 – Easts v UQ
Fourth Grade | 10:00am – Field 1 – Wests v Souths
Colts 2 | 10:00am – Field 2 – UQ v Easts
Third Grade | 11:30am – Field 1 – Brothers v Wests
Sunday at GPS Rugby Club (2 v 3)
Colts 1 | 12:00pm – Field 1 – GPS v Brothers
Second Grade | 1:30pm – Field 1 – Bond v Souths
Premier Grade | 3:00pm – Field 1 – GPS v Wests
Women’s | 5:00pm – Field 1 – Sunnybank v Easts
Saturday, September 4 at Sunnybank Rugby Club
Fifth Grade | 10:00am - Field 1
Colts 3 | 10:00am - Field 2
Fourth Grade | 11:40am - Field 1
Colts 2 | 11:40am - Field 2
Third Grade | 1:20pm - Field 1
Second Grade | 3:00pm - Field 1
Sunday, September 5 at Suncorp Stadium
Women’s | 11:30am
Colts 1 | 1:15pm
Premier Grade | 3:00pm