Incredible inside story of how the Cowboys went from NRL laughing stock to premiership contenders

While the North Queensland Cowboys will host a maiden preliminary NRL final at their brand-new stadium in Townsville on Friday night, a crucial slice of history from their old home remains.

As the players run onto the field they will tap their hands on a strip of signage transplanted from their old stadium that bears the words ‘You are now entering Cowboy’s Country’.

That message has been a reminder for all Cowboys players, male, female, junior and senior for 27 years to always remember where you come from.

It is a critical piece of signage that was the final instalment in a stadium the Cowboys had to largely build themselves when they were granted entry into the ARL in 1995.

The sign is a timeless icon that represents the team’s DNA and remains a big part of what has powered the current crop of players to the verge of the 2022 NRL grand final after everyone down south wrote them off.

Back in 1995, four teams entered the competition including the Auckland [now New Zealand] Warriors, South East Queensland Crushers and Western Reds to create a bloated 20-team competition.

Finding elite players was challenging to say the least and few wanted to move to the heat and humidity of Townsville to play for a cash-strapped new franchise that was destined to fail on the field in its first year.

So inaugural coach Grant Bell set about assembling the finest North Queensland talent he could find on a shoestring budget.

Paul Bowman, who would go on to play 203 NRL games and 12 State of Origins for the Maroons, was paid just $1000 plus match fees.

Rockhampton product Justin Loomans wanted the car loan for his beat-up old Holden Ute paid out and his knocked-out front teeth replaced.

‘We had a history of North Queensland playing against Great Britain when they came out for tours, North Queensland playing against Southeast Queensland and the best that Brisbane could put together – and defeating them at times,’ Bell said.

‘So there is a really rich history and we wanted to pay homage to that and to bring on the next crop of those players in the highest level without them having to leave home.’

It was a tough year on the field, with just two wins and the dreaded wooden spoon. But the mission was to build a culture and a brand that North Queenslanders could be proud of.

It all began with the rag-tag group of old heads and rookies from the north converting an old trotting track into their own stadium.

Perhaps one of the most North Queensland moments of all came when they defeated Western Suburbs 31-12 in front of 18,197 loyal supporters to record their first victory at the stadium they built.

Entertainers and even Buck the horse were invited into the change rooms to celebrate, with several players including Adrian Vowles and Andrew Whittington taking turns to sit on the steed, XXXX tins in hand.

A total of 25 players that would go on to play first grade that year were from North Queensland, including club legends like Paul Bowman and John John Buttigieg along with coach Grant Bell and his faithful Blue Heeler Cassie, who would become the inaugural club mascot ‘Bluey’.

They were not gifted a ready-to-go stadium like many other clubs, and instead had the arduous task of trying to convert the old horse trotting track into an international-standard football venue.

Around eight players were employed permanently by the club including starting prop Whittington, who became the unofficial club groundsman, helped by other players such as Martin Bella.

Bell and Wayne Sing helped install the plumbing and re-lay the floors at the the old stables to create a makeshift gym while Paul Galea re-laid the blocks to create office spaces.

After training, the players would head to the stadium to lay the turf. When torrential rain washed all their hard work into a sodden mass at the bottom of the hill in the week leading up to their first ever game, they had to do it all over again.

Not only was a club building its own stadium truly unique in rugby league, there were also some peculiarly North Queensland challenges.

‘One of the problems was the ‘roos were coming in and eating the turf at night time. So we had to put an electric fence around the field to try and slow ’em down,’ Bell recalls.

‘When we got all the turf down, the irrigation system was in but the power wasn’t in. So Bowie [inaugural Cowboys CEO Kerry Boustead], myself and Andrew Whittington were taking taking turns sleeping out overnight at the stadium and turning the sprinkler banks on and off manually.

‘I don’t believe there’s been any club before and there certainly won’t be another club again that builds its field, builds its stadium and builds its training quarters and contributes so much as the players did in that first year.

‘For most of them, that was the destination. It wasn’t a stepping stone to go onto brighter things.’

While there was a host of young guns looking to do their region proud, there were also two established ARL talents that the club called out of retirement to help build their culture and DNA.

They were inaugural captain Laurie Spina, who was five years retired from the ARL and happily running a cane farm in the town of Ingham, along with former Wests, Illawarra and Warrington hard man Craig Teitzel, who ran the family butcher shop in Tully.

While their best playing days were well behind them, the experience, profile and genuine North Queensland DNA they brought to the club would reap benefits for decades to come.

‘Craig would drive down to meet Laurie, they would jump in the car together and drive down to training in Townsville,’ Bell said.

‘They would drive back and Craig would sometimes sleep over at Laurie’s, other times he would drive straight through to be ready at the butchers first thing in the morning to chop up a bit more meat ready for the customers.

‘They were both important because they were seen as being real North Queenslanders, they brought their talent with them, they brought with them a new experience for many of the other North Queenslanders because they had played NRL/ARL beforehand.

‘From that point of view they brought experience but they had also played with a lot of the guys locally whether it was for Herbert River [in Ingham] or whether it was for Tully, they had played with these guys and knew them and had a respect for them.

‘It helped the club and it helped the players in that first part, so I think that was really important to the club.

‘They brought some values and they made a statement about what the club was about.’

The arrival of the Cowboys in 1995 was also made possible by the community, with the club benefiting from the largest geographical footprint in the NRL, stretching north to the cape, south to Rockhampton and west to Mount Isa.

Local businesses lined up en masse to offer their support in setting up the club while supporters continue to drive 500km round trips and longer to support their team.

‘There were lots of machine operators that could come out to drive trucks of an evening to move the dirt and make the mounds for the hills,’ Bell said.

‘The public were enormous in what they did. There were companies that donated things like glass for the windows, the corporate boxes, some aisles – there was so much that was donated or given at a very cheap price to help build the stadium.

‘It wasn’t just the players that built the place, it was players and the community that got in.’

The culture built back in 1995 paved the way for a host of North Queensland champions finishing their careers as one-club players at the Cowboys.

Some of the big names include the likes of Matt Bowen, Michael Morgan, Matt Scott, Aaron Payne, Paul Bowman, John Buttigieg, Ty Williams, Scott Bolton – the list goes on.

It paved the way for soaring success including the highs of reaching a maiden grand final in 2005 and the shattering pain of losing that decider to Wests Tigers.

Eventually, the club climbed the mountain with a watershed premiership in 2015.

While the hard work the players of 1995 imprinted onto the DNA of the club came almost three decades ago, Bell said he can see the same qualities in the current crop of players as they press for the club’s second premiership.

‘I could picture the mixture of players at the Cowboys doing it [building a stadium from scratch] again,’ he said.

‘The Cowboys now are full of local juniors, full of gratitude and appreciation for the opportunities that they’ve got and what North Queensland has given them whether they are a local or whether they have come in.

‘I think there are a lot of similarities and certainly a lot of alignment in what we wanted to do in 1995 to what they are actually achieving in 2022.

‘Todd [Payten, current coach] has done a terrific job with that and all of the players have invested strongly in wanting to know about the history of the region and the history of the Cowboys.

‘For them it has been quite important which I think is nice, they appreciated the history to that level.

‘I think it was really important that Todd recognised things like that and has encouraged and promoted the players to have the same sort of ownership and belief.’

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  • 35 минут назад 25.09.2022Sport
    NRL star Brandon Smith admits ‘I wish I could control what I say better’ ahead of move to Roosters

    Controversial NRL star Brandon Smith is Bondi bound in 2023 but his move was not an easy one – wishing he could control what he says better as the raging utility reveals he took $200,000 less to move north.

    The 26-year-old played his final game for the Storm in round one of the finals, bowing out to the Raiders in a shock elimination loss.

    Earlier in the year Smith entered hot water in a tell-all interview with YKTR, which jeopardised his position and loyalty to Melbourne.

    ‘The Cheese’ dropped the F-bomb 61 times throughout the podcast special and detailed how he was determined to take the Roosters to premiership glory upon his arrival.

    ‘I definitely regret it (the interview) but I can’t take it back,’ Smith told the Daily Telegraph.

    ‘My mouth just rambles. It’s who I am. It’s in my DNA.

    ‘I’m not perfect and people have seen that. I wish I could control what I say a little bit better and I will work on that.’

    The 2020 premiership winner says he took a $200,000 pay cut to join Robinson and his roster, saying the Dolphins were willing to confirm a massive salary beyond his negotiations with the Chooks and Storm.

    ‘No word of a lie, the Roosters’ offer was the lowest of all the clubs I spoke to. I promise you I’ve taken $200,000 less than the Dolphins and $100,000 less than the Storm offered,’ said Smith.

    He has been offered a starting hooker position with the tricolours, as current hooker Sam Verrills will head to the Titans on a two-year deal.

    The prankster insists his decision to move to NSW was not made lightly, but chose the Roosters; as his job security was not ensured while Harry Grant remained the no.1 pick at Melbourne.

    Under the radar in Melbourne, Smith knows he will have to silence his boisterous personality while in Sydney’s public view – which saw him dye his hair blonde with teammate Cameron Munster after the two arrived late at a club meeting.

    At the end of the 2021 season, Smith and Munster were investigated by the NRL integrity unit for partying in a hotel room with a white substance on the table.

    The star no.6 was forced to spend a month in rehab and abstain from alcohol for a year, while Smith was fined $15,000 and suspended for a match.

    The Kiwi international revealed coach Bellamy kissed him on the forehead after his last game with the club, where he cried and thanked him for the opportunity.

    Nine newspapers suggested last week that Bellamy and Smith had fallen out, but the fierce forward says those reports couldn’t be further from the truth.

    Smith said Bellamy has a ‘very soft side’ to him, where the two have formed an unbreakable bond and invaluable friendship.

  • 35 минут назад 25.09.2022Sport
    Annemiek van Vleuten wins UCI World Championship race in Wollongong with a BROKEN ELBOW

    Annemiek van Vleuten has recorded an amazing come-from-behind victory in the UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong – just three days after fracturing her elbow in a horror crash.

    The 39-year-old Dutch cycling legend won her second world road race title with an attack in the last 600m that caught the other eight leaders by surprise.

    On Wednesday, van Vleuten crashed during the mixed team relay and fractured her elbow, leaving many to think her chances of taking out Saturday’s big event were gone.

    Fortunately for van Vleuten, medical clearance came on Friday and after 164.3km racing, the Dutch rider stole an unlikely win in the Women’s Elite Road Race.

    The 2019 world champion and reigning Olympic world time trial winner claimed cycling’s triple crown this year when she landed the Italian, French and Spanish tours.

    But for the veteran, who will celebrate her 40th birthday in October, what she achieved on Saturday was something else.

    ‘Maybe this is my best victory. … I am still speechless. I still can’t believe it,’ she said.

    ‘It took me some time to realize I’d really pulled it off because I’m waiting for the moment that they tell me there was someone in front or it was a joke. I had the feeling it cannot be true.’

    The amazing win with a fractured elbow adds to the van Vleuten legend as one of the toughest riders in the world.

    ‘It was hell,’ she said of riding with the injury.

    ‘I could not go out of the saddle so I had to do everything seated and my legs were exploding on the climb.

    ‘Normally I really like to go out of the saddle and attacking. I had a so different plan. I want to attack.

    It was a game of cat and mouse in the final few kilometres of the race as no one in the peloton made a move.

    Then van Vleuten suddenly emerged from the rear of the group and began sprinting with the finish line not far away.

    The chasing peloton began closing in on van Vleuten ominously. However, the lead was just enough to reach the line first.

    ‘I felt like I was waiting for the moment,’ said van Vleuten.

    ‘The only thing I was thinking was ‘I need to attack from behind. That’s the only, only, only chance I have’.

    ‘I was waiting and waiting until they come with the sprint over me, but they didn’t catch me,’ she said.

    It’s the second time in as many years that van Vleuten has won at the UCI Road World Championships, claiming the 2019 title.

    Since 2016, the Dutch rider has experienced great hurdles in her career, riding the highest of highs and lowest of lows.

    The world’s number one rider in the women’s peloton has continued to set targets and achieve her outlandish goals despite these setbacks.

    The win means van Vleuten will spend what is likely her last full season wearing the iconic rainbow jersey.

    ‘It’s so beautiful to be able to wear the rainbow jersey. Especially, I had it in the COVID year and it was not the best year to have it, the rainbow jersey.

    ‘I still enjoyed it, but now I will fully enjoy it next year.’

    The UCI Road World Championships concludes on Sunday with the Men’s Elite Road Race from 10.15am.

  • 35 минут назад 25.09.2022Sport
    Geelong Cats water boy relishes 2022 Grand Final win over the Sydney Swans in heart-warming scenes

    Long-time Geelong water boy Sam Moorfoot was lifted over the fence by skipper Joel Selwood to celebrate with the team on the MCG in heart-warming scenes.

    The Cats won as much praise for their grace in victory than they did for their 81-point thrashing over the Swans in the grand final on Saturday afternoon.

    Players lingered on the hallowed MCG turf soaking up the atmosphere for some time after the final siren, before Selwood spotted an ecstatic Moorfoot on the boundary fence.

    Selwood, who the water boy describes as his ‘best friend’, insisted Moorfoot join in the celebrations, dragging him over the fence and onto the field with the help of teammate Jeremy Cameron.

    The 29-year-old, who has Down syndrome, was then given Cameron’s medal; eliciting one of the biggest smiles you are ever likely to see on a footy field.

    Moorfoot gleefully raised his medal to the fellow Cats fans watching from the fence, much to the delight of Geelong players and supporters; who are all well aware of the huge role he plays keeping up team morale.

    He’s been involved with the club since 2015, originally as a volunteer at Kardinia Park’s (now GMHBA Stadium) bistro.

    Now the club’s water boy, he can often be seen around the team during the week and on game days. Moorfoot is an iconic figure and much-loved member of the Cats family.

    The overjoyed Cats fanatic even made an appearance on Channel 7’s post-match coverage, with commentators Hamish McLachlan and Daisy Pearce interviewing Moorfoot in the changerooms.

    ‘I’m a training assistant and a water boy, and am very proud of my job,’ he said, when asked what his role was.

    Despite having Cats defender Sam De Konig’s arm around him, there was no surprises for guessing his answer to who his favourite player was.

    ‘Joel Selwood, 100 per cent … Joel is actually my best friend. He is a legend, and he’s just the best,’ Moorfoot said on Channel 7’s post-match coverage.

    ‘Best day of my life.’

    Moorfoot played in a grand final of his own earlier in the year, but his Geelong Dragons unfortunately went down to the Kananook Bulls in the Football Integration Development Association’s big dance.

    At the time, Selwood spoke about how close his bond was with Moorfoot.

    ‘We share a very special friendship, and I consider him like family. He has my back and I have his,’ he told the Age in August.

    No doubt wearing Jeremy Cameron’s AFL Premiership medal will have dulled that pain over losing his own grand final.

    Fans took the social media in droves to shower Selwood, who is the AFL’s Disability Inclusion Ambassador, in praise – and share their joy at viewing the heart-warming scenes.

    Chief of which was MP Bill Shorten, currently the Minister for National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

    ‘Joel Selwood made a lot of dreams come true yesterday. This could be the sweetest,’ he wrote on Twitter.

    It wasn’t Selwood’s only act that sent social media into meltdown.

    He led his side through the banner prior to the game with his former teammate Gary Ablett Jr.’s son Levi.

    Three-year-old Levi was diagnosed in 2020 with a rare degenerative illness that leaves him with less resistance to naturally fight illnesses compared to healthier children.

    Levi was all smiles and waving his arms about gleefully as Selwood carried him through the banner, a touching nod for one of the club’s favourite sons.

    Selwood then delivered Levi back to Ablett, who won two flags with Geelong in his sensational 357-game career.

    After the game, the revered skipper not only handed over his grand final cap, as all players do to the pint-sized Auskickers who give them their medals – but his game-worn boots as well.

    A thrilled Archie Stockdale, who won the AFL’s Auskicker of the Year award at the Brownlow Medal, had been promised a visit by Selwood – and the Cat did not disappoint.

    In emotional scenes atop the presentation stage, Selwood told the elated youngster ‘I told you I was coming to see you’.

    He then passed on his white boots, and pointed to the camera so the pair could get a photo together – ensuring the memory of a lifetime for little Archie.

    Selwood showed more care and attention for those on the periphery than getting caught up in all the emotion and hype of a AFL grand final.

    Such grace and humility in victory.

  • 35 минут назад 25.09.2022Sport
    Aaron Judge frustrated over close check swing call in the slugger’s final at-bat of the day

    In his pursuit of a record-tying 61st home run, Aaron Judge has been stymied by tough pitches and tough calls.

    One of the toughest may have come Saturday afternoon in his game against the Red Sox.

    First-base umpire Chris Conroy saw Judge check his swing on a pitch from John Schreiber that went high and outside. He called Judge out on a third strike.

    Judge reacted by pointing his arm in the direction of Conroy, saying something in his direction, then waving back toward him in anger.

    It was Judge’s second strikeout in an 0-3 day that saw him fail to hit a home run for a fourth game in a row.

    Ever since he hit home run no. 60 in a game against the Pirates, he’s gone 3 for 13 with a pair of doubles, five walks, and six strikeouts.

    The lack of production has dropped his batting average down to .314, with Boston’s Xander Bogaerts’ average rising to .315 to take the lead in the American League.

    Combine Judge’s home run count with his league leading RBI count of 128 and he’s in the hunt for the first Triple Crown in baseball since Miguel Cabrera accomplished the feat with the Detroit Tigers in 2012.

    The Yankees won the game 7-5 thanks to Anthony Rizzo’s two-run homer hit right after Judge struck out.

    Judge has one more shot at tying the record against Boston. He’ll face Brayan Bello as the Yankees try and go for the sweep in the Bronx.

  • 35 минут назад 25.09.2022Sport
    NFL could have sold THREE MILLION tickets for Bucs-Seahawks game in Munich, says chief

    It doesn’t take Brett Gosper long to bring Germany’s passion for the NFL to life.

    The Australian, who was appointed head of Europe and UK in January 2021, spent nine years growing the worldwide appeal of an established sport as World Rugby CEO.

    Nowadays his remit is continental growth – a task made easier by the love of the sport in the NFL’s historical European home.

    ‘It’s ubiquitous in Germany. When I visit I always get the feeling you talk to the taxi drivers about NFL – but here not quite,’ Gosper says from the NFL’s London office.

    ‘As a sport maybe it scratches an itch that other sports don’t in that market. Rugby is not a big game in that market – there is not another contact sport.

    ‘There’s a lot of professional sports kicking around in England, from cricket, to rugby, to football, and so on. And NFL still finds its way in that competitive landscape.

    ‘But in Germany, there just seems to be a wider possibility to come in and occupy a space that maybe is not occupied by someone else.’

    England has been the NFL’s beachhead for international expansion building up to and beyond the first regular season game staged at Wembley in 2007.

    By the end of October the capital will have played host to 33 match-ups across Wembley, Twickenham and the sport’s home from home, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

    The NFL will soon tick off another stadium as it expands into mainland Europe. With an office now open in Germany, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play the Seattle Seahawks at Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena on November 13.

    ‘There is high demand for these games in in Europe, particularly in Germany given the novelty factor,’ Gosper adds.

    ‘There were 800,000 people queuing for one game of football. Ticketmaster said they never seen anything like it. They extrapolated that in demand terms our analytics say you could have sold three million tickets – basically 500,000 more than a rugby World Cup! It’s a big, big, big demand.’

    While Tottenham Hotspur is a purpose-built NFL stadium – complete with retractable pitch, giant locker rooms and luxury hospitality – the Allianz Arena had to undergo a mild facelift over summer.

    ‘Bayern have been really good partners in helping us prepare that stadium. They’ve let us tinker with their field and stadium – we’ve had to lengthen the field to make sure that the run offs are deep enough for player safety.

    ‘It’s just adding turf to the back end so the run offs in the end zone are long enough to provide stopping space for the players. It’s not a huge extension, but some work has taken place to extend it a couple of meters.

    ‘We also reconfigured some of the locker rooms to get the right space, the right number of showers and so on.’

    Germany will play host to at least one game a season for the next four years, alternating between Frankfurt and Dortmund. Are there any grand designs to play in another European cathedral, such as the Bernabeu or Nou Camp?

    ‘There’s no current plans for that,’ Gosper says. ‘But the NFL talk to a lot of stadia around Europe, whether it be for potential preseason games – it’s good to know who would be ready to take a game and who would be interested under what terms.

    ‘We keep a constant dialogue with a number of stadia just to keep that understanding. Whether it be in France, Spain, other markets and so on. It’s never out of the question to go to a place like Spain or France as well. At this point obviously we haven’t gotten the inventory, but there may well be in the future.’

    While there is great enthusiasm for the German market, Gosper is keen to underline the commitment made to London.

    In 2018, the NFL signed a 10-year deal to play at least two regular season games at Tottenham and the Jacksonville Jaguars added to that by continuing to play one game at Wembley for the next three years.

    ‘I really think Tottenham is the home because our international base is in London. It was purpose-built, we’ve got a 10-year deal with Tottenham. It’s a strong, long-standing partnership. It is the only purpose-built NFL stadium in Europe.

    ‘Can I see us creating as deep a relationship as that in another market in Europe in the near future? No.

    ‘Yes, we have a good partnership now with Bayern, but that’s over a shorter period and it’s also alongside the relationship that we also have under contract now with Frankfurt as well.’

    Before he departs, what of the f-word? The talk of a franchise relocating to London has gone quiet in recent years and Gosper is realistic about the chances.

    ‘We’d love for that to happen. There are lots of things that have to happen to make that happen. But the main thing that’s got to happen is that an owner has to see their future in another market than the one they’re in. Until someone puts their hand up for that it’s very hard to evaluate that seriously,’ he says.

  • 35 минут назад 25.09.2022Sport
    LeBron James asks if he’s eligible to compete in college football after playing another sport

    On another exciting and wild college football Saturday, professional basketball’s ‘King’ seemed to be watching along with the country.

    LeBron James took to Twitter on Saturday afternoon, joking that he seemed interested in going to college to join a football team.

    ‘Do I have college eligibility if I went to play another sport besides basketball? How does that rule work?,’ James tweeted out.

    James was drafted first overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2003 Draft right out of high school.

    While he played at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, he played football for two seasons and was considered the top football prospect in the state.

    He was being recruited to play wide receiver at schools like Notre Dame, Ohio State, Alabama, and Miami (FL).

    However, his desire to play in the NBA was never in doubt and he’s gone on to become one of the greatest players the game has ever seen.

    James has stuck around the game of football. He’s been seen rooting for the Cleveland Browns and the Ohio State Buckeyes multiple times.

    While it may seem that he wants to play football, his $97.1million contract extension he signed this summer runs until the 2024-25 season.

    The Lakers star has also made it clear that he wants to play in the NBA with his two sons Bronny and Bryce. Bronny is set to graduate high school this year, meaning by the 2023-24 season, he could be in the NBA.

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Sport Incredible inside story of how the Cowboys went from NRL laughing stock to premiership contenders