Petero Civoniceva brought up 300 NRL games then bowed out of rugby league as the Broncos played out a mixed 2012 season.
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The Broncos started life after Lockyer with a bang, but as the season dragged on the weight of injuries and expectations took their toll on the young side.
From their early-season golden run to their post-Origin slump, here are six big games that sum up how Brisbane's campaign travelled in 2012.
Round 4: Rabbitohs 12-20 Broncos
For the first time since 1995, the Broncos went into an NRL season without Darren Lockyer at the club. How they would deal with the absence of the irreplaceable Lockyer – the club, state and national team captain and the most influential player in Brisbane's history – was always going to be the big question for the Broncos in 2012. And the initial signs were very positive. Despite hitting a speedbump in the form of a two-point defeat to the Cowboys at home in round 2, Brisbane impressed early on with away wins over the Eels, Knights, and then Souths.
The Rabbitohs victory was the most impressive of the early wins, not just because of the calibre of the opponents but also because it came despite the loss of star winger Jharal Yow Yeh, whose season was ended by a shocking broken leg midway through the first half. The Broncos also had to deal with the sin-binning of centre Jack Reed after 10 minutes. With Brisbane short on numbers the Rabbitohs ran in a 12-4 lead at the break, before Brisbane's young guns sparked a comeback with Josh Hoffman finding the tryline and Gerard Beale bagging a double to secure a hard-fought win.
"We showed a lot of courage and pride and we hope we made Jharal, and everybody who came out here tonight, proud to see the Broncos play," new Broncos skipper Sam Thaiday said after the victory.
Round 8: Broncos 26-6 Titans
By the end of April the Broncos were flying high, climbing to second place of the NRL ladder with seven wins from their opening eight matches. Filling Lockyer's boots with aplomb was Corey Norman, who showed great skills to set up Hoffman for one of the tries of the year against the Gold Coast, while his halves partner Peter Wallace made his return from a groin tear and kept the Titans on the back foot with a terrific kicking game. Alex Glenn scored twice in the five-tries-to-one rout.
Round 9: Warriors 30-20 Broncos
Brisbane's luck ran out in a brutal Saturday night clash in Auckland, which left the Broncos' lineup battered and beaten. Wallace went into his 100th game for the club as the new favourite to unseat Mitchell Pearce as the NSW Origin halfback, but that dream was dashed 31 minutes into the match against the Warriors when he left the field with a recurrence of his groin injury. Also in the injury wars were skipper Thaiday, who played on after suffering rib damage, as well as Andrew McCullough and Ben Te'o, who both suffered ankle injuries.
Amid the destruction the Warriors ran in four first-half tries. Brisbane fought back and scored through Te'o early in the second term, but Feleti Mateo's 73rd-minute effort clinched the victory for last year's beaten grand finalists. Two more defeats would follow for the Broncos, first against reigning premiers Manly and then against the Storm in Melbourne following State of Origin I.
Round 16: Broncos 26-12 Rabbitohs
Brisbane were forced to dig deep again for their second win over the Rabbitohs in 2012, in a match that doubled as a celebration of the career of retiring prop Petero Civoniceva in his 300th game. Both teams found the line once in the first half and Souths snatched a 12-10 lead when Nathan Merritt scored a length-of-the-field try after intercepting a loose Corey Norman pass, before the Broncos turned on the style to finish the stronger.
Tries to Dale Copley and Norman gave the hosts the advantage as Brisbane's strong defence frustrated the Rabbitohs, before a Ben Te'o try moments before fulltime presented Civoniceva with the rare opportunity to take a shot at goal. Big Petero's conversion attempted sailed wide, but a 33,602-strong crowd cheered their encouragement anyway in what would prove to be one of the final genuine highlights of the team's season.
Round 21: Broncos 22-42 Eels
After their sensational start to the year, the cracks now started to show for the injury-hit Broncos. Brisbane went into their round 21 clash as big favourites despite the absence of injured stars Hoffman, Justin Hodges and Corey Parker, with their opponents Parramatta sitting in last place on the ladder and having just sacked their coach Stephen Kearney.
But the rejuvenated Eels took advantage of some terrible defensive lapses from the home side, with Chris Sandow coming to life as the wooden spooners ran in five first-half tries. At halftime the scoreline read 30-6, with Parramatta having produced eight line breaks to nil.
Andrew McCullough's early second-half try sparked some hope of what would have been an enormous comeback, only for Sandow to send Fuifui Moimoi crashing over for yet another Eels try on the hour mark. Making matters worse for the Broncos was another injury to Peter Wallace, who limped from the field with a hamstring complaint late in the match.
The result dropped Brisbane out of the top four, and would become the second in a six-match losing streak that threatened to rob the team of a finals berth. "We've got to go back and hit the reset button, we were terrible out there tonight," Thaiday said. "We're not playing like a finals side, we can't think about the finals."
Finals Week 1: Cowboys 33-16 Broncos
A scratchy round 26 victory over the Panthers ensured Brisbane did scrape into the finals in eighth place, but with their early-season momentum now gone it seemed fate was against them when they were matched up with Queensland rivals and 2012 bogey team the Cowboys. North Queensland had already defeated the Broncos twice during the year, handing them their only loss in the opening two months of the season in round 2 and then holding Brisbane scoreless for the only time in 2012 in round 15.
This finals clash followed a similar tune, with Matt Bowen opening the scoring for the in-form Cowboys after just five minutes, and later kicking ahead to set up the second of two Michael Morgan tries to make it 18-0. The slow start meant Brisbane were just about out of the contest by halftime, and despite out-scoring their opponents three tries to two in the second half, their season – and Civoniceva's career – came to an end.
"I have some great memories with this side," Civoniceva said. "All I can do is be grateful for my career. I did what I wanted to do when I was a kid – to be here 15 years later I feel very lucky."
The Broncos will go into 2013 again looking to replace a retired great, but with their host of young stars another year older there's plenty of cause for optimism next season.