Long has been the Winter of our Discontent – Cowboys, Dazed and Confused – Part 3

NRL Clubs who have never won a premiership

This is part 3 of a 4 part series breaking down the four clubs which have never won a National Rugby League Premiership in descending order of futility. This week, the mighty North Queensland Cowboys. The early years of the Cowboys were bleak indeed. They have been moderately successful since then, especially since the arrival of JT in 2005. In fact, the Cowboys have been contenders in most seasons since the collaboration between JT and Matty Bowen hit town. At least the Cows are consistently playing Finals Football now. Consistency isn’t a word you would use when talking about the Cows. They aren’t as frustrating as the Warriors but they sure come close sometimes.

Firstly, a declaration of a real or perceived conflict of interest. I am a Cowboys fan, a long suffering one. Now a discussion about the Cowboys can’t really start without a look at the region and its history.

History of North Queensland Football

NQ is one of the heartlands of Rugby League and there aren’t many. NSW, QLD, PNG, some suburbs in Auckland and the North of England are pretty much it when you think about it. I’m not saying RL isn’t played anywhere else but these are the areas where it is most popular. North Queensland has a rich heritage when it comes to Rugby League and it is a potent breeding ground of player talent. Lionel Williamson, Mat Bowen, Sam Backo, Gorden Tallis, Billy Slater, Kerry Boustead, Wendell Sailor, Gene Miles, Greg Dowling, Martin Bella and Dale Shearer are just some of the great names that have come from the region. We could mention many more.

Any discussion about North Queensland Football is incomplete without mention of the Foley Shield. The Foley Shield (the Carlton Cup until 1948), is an inter town/district representative competition, and is the highlight of the North Queensland sporting calendar and has been for almost a century (although its importance has faded over the last 20 years). Initially, teams from the Northern Zone (Cairns, Babinda, Tully and Eacham) and the Southern Zone (Mackay, Ayr and Townsville) would fight for the right to meet in the Foley Shield Final in Townsville to determine NQ supremacy each season. Of course over the years many iterations of the competition evolved. Herbert River (the Ingham region), Innisfail, Charters Towers, Whitsunday and Mt Isa have all had sides in the Foley Shield at one time or other. Most recently teams like Mt Isa have combined with the Mid-West and even a team from Cape York combined with the Torres Strait to make the final of the 2009 competition. A fair bit of prestige is attached to winning the final. It is important to note that famous NSWRL/QRL/ARL/NRL players end up in strong country competitions before, during and after their careers in the big Leagues. For instance, I vividly remember Rod Reddy leading Townsville to victory over Cairns in the 1987 Foley Shield Final some 15 years after his NSWRL debut for St George in 1972.

It is an even greater honour to be selected for the blue of North Queensland and NQ has always acquitted itself well whether it is against the other regions of Queensland, clubs from Brisbane or against touring international sides. In the 1980s the Brisbane Rugby League competition combined with teams representing regions of country Queensland to hold the Winfield State League. Most of the regional teams were out of their depth but a number of the regions were able to compete including NQ which eventually became the first regional team to win the competition in the post-Broncos 1991 competition. The Toowoomba Clydesdales (with a team including a young Mick Hancock) were probably the best regional side in the early years performing especially well in the 1987 competition where they made the semi-finals against a very strong Wynnum-Manly side (containing Colin Scott and Wally Lewis) who eventually won the competition.

It was against this background that a bid for a team based out of Townsville commenced in 1990. Rumblings started after Townsville successfully hosted a mid-week Panasonic Cup match between the Broncos and Parramatta in 1989 with a huge crowd turning up for the game. The bid gained momentum and the Willows paceway was offered as a site for a potential stadium for the team (the site where the team’s stadium is still located, now comically known as 1300Smiles Stadium (capitalism has a lot to answer for)). The bid was ultimately successful in 1992 and the region prepared to place a team in the 1995 competition. The Cowboys were born.

History of the Cowboys

The inaugural season of the Cowboys was heralded with much excitement. The team brought a number of players home to North Queensland from Sydney mingled with some marquee talent from the South and some exciting young local players sprinkled in. That first team included players such as Laurie Spina, Martin Bella, Ian Russell, Dean Schifilliti, Noel Solomon, Jason Martin, Jonathan Davies and Paul Bowman. Probably the fact that some of your key players are from the Illawarra Steelers and the North Sydney Bears should raise some alarm bells but there was a sense of optimism in the North and the launch of the Cowboys also coincided with the commencement of the South Queensland Crushers and the Auckland Warriors so the pool of uncontracted and talented players was shallow. Heady days.

Unfortunately for the Cowboys the Broncos had a 7 season headstart and had captured the hearts and minds of pretty much every Queenslander with 2 premierships already in the trophy room and recruiting networks well established across the State. All of a sudden the Sunshine State (no not Florida) went from 2 to 4 teams in the national Rugby League competition and every other team not called the Broncos struggled. The early seasons of the Cowboys were a debacle. In fact it took till their 10th season before they recorded their first winning record. Probably not surprisingly, that coincided with their first finals appearance.

The early years took their toll on a number of players and coaches in that time. The first 10 years accounted for 4 coaches all told including Grant Bell (1995), Graham Lowe (1996), Tim Sheens (1997-2001) and Murray Hurst (2001-2002). Quite simply the Cowboys were coach killers. They were initially completely outclassed but then graduated to mercurial which was an upgrade but a frustrating one. Probably the one redeeming factor was the crowds consistently turned up to see them play and their grand final was always when the Broncos came to town. They liked nothing better than to give it to the Broncos. In 2003 Graham Murray took over the reins and the Cowboys started showing some encouraging signs. They fell short of the finals that season but were much improved with the emergence of Matt Bowen and Josh Hannay. They only finished 2 wins out of the 8 with a net for and against of -23 which was something of a miracle. For the first time ever they had a potent attack amassing 606 points during the season. Unfortunately they let in as many as they scored and Cowboys games were always a shoot out in that season.

2004 was heralded with a fair bit of optimism. To add to the attacking flair of Mat Bowen, Aaron Payne, Mat Sing, David Faiumu, Ty Williams, Nathan Fien and Rocket Rod Jensen, the Cowboys also had starch with Paul Bowman, Kevin Campion, Michael Luck, Luke O’Donnell and Paul Rauhihi. Quality right across the park. The Cowboys almost went all the way shocking the 2nd place Bulldogs, the Broncos and went within 3 points of the GF eventually losing to the Roosters.

It left them with a taste for more and the 2005 season was even better. After the astute recruitment of Johnathan Thurston, Steve Southern and Justin Smith the Cowboys had their most successful season ever finishing in 5th position. They started disastrously in the finals receiving a towelling by the red hot Wests Tigers but followed this up with wins against Melbourne and Parramatta in the semi-finals before losing their first ever GF against a red hot Benji Marshall and the Tigers. It was a bitter pill to swallow.

There was a fair bit of optimism that the momentum gained in the 2004 and 2005 seasons were the sign of things to come, however, that was not to be. That 2005 season was followed up by a disappointing one where the Cows narrowly missed the finals which was a huge underachievement. They were dominating again in the 2007 season finishing in 3rd place. They won their first 2 finals against the Bulldogs and the Warriors before going down to a strong Manly side in the semi-finals.

It was to start a terrible period of time for the Cowboys which coincided with a number of injuries to Mat Bowen and the demise of Graham Murray in 2008, the caretaker tenure of Ian Millward and the appointment of Neil Henry in 2009. Oh and they missed out on the finals three years in a row. 2008 and 2010 were particularly miserable with two 15th placed finishes. 2011 to 2014 has been a much happier time for the Cowboys with three consecutive visits to the finals (twice controversially ended by the Sea Eagles and the referees it must be said), however, there is a sense that they have wasted the career of one of the all time greats of the game in Johnathon Thurston. Will this season be anything different?

Some statistics for the Statophiles

First Year in the Competition – 1995

Seasons played – 20

Overall Record – 484 games, 189 wins, 6 draws, 289 losses and an overall win percentage of 39.05%

Finals Record – 14 games, 7 wins, 0 draws, 7 losses and an overall win percentage of 50%

Wooden spoons – 3

Minor premierships – 0

Grand finals – 1

Final series – 6 (so they’ve made the finals 31.58% of the time)

Likelihood of winning a premiership in the near future 

Negatives

  • Unfortunately time is running out for this great generation of North Queensland Cowboys. Mat Bowen is gone. Likewise, Aaron Payne and Paul Bowman and the clock is seriously ticking on JT. He is still at the peak of his game (or thereabouts) but there can’t be too many seasons left for a fitting farewell.
  • The Cowboys have never been a good away side even in their prime. Unless they can find a solution to this dilemma then I doubt they will ever hoist the trophy. The travelling must kill them.
  • Lack of playmaking consistency beside JT. Michael Morgan is a welcome addition at Fullback but while Ray Thompson and Robert Lui have had periods of success in the halves and at hooker they haven’t really given continuous support to JT. Until they sort this out I think it is going to be a big ask to win the whole thing. They should have locked up James Segeyaro. He was a keeper.

Positives

  • JT. He is a once in a generation player and while he is still rolling around the paddock the Cows have a puncher’s chance.
  • Nursery of potent playing talent so the next Mat Bowen is surely just around the corner.
  • Although average crowds have dropped over the years from 21,670 to this season’s 14,113 their crowds have remained relatively steady at an average of 14,000 for the last 5 years. They are a loyal bunch and travelling to the North is always a daunting prospect for other teams and not just because of the humidity.

Verdict

Never say never when JT is involved. It helps that they have the current Australian front row as well. Their window is closing though and like many I feel that unless they jag something in the next 2-3 years it will be a long time until they contend regularly again. Much will depend on whether the team buys in to Paul Green’s manifesto for success. I think like a good Riesling it will either be drink now or cellar for a long time. I don’t think they will win it this season but they are a contender for at least the next two seasons after this one. Otherwise we are looking at plus 10.

What was sweeter than Jelly Bread?

What wasn’t?

  • The Rugby Championship/Bledisloe Cup. Exciting spectacle but the weather and some overly technical refereeing conspired to put a dampener on the whole event. Still the Wallabies did much better than I thought they would and the All Blacks defended stoutly. At the end of the day the highlights consisted of 8 penalty goals. Not a fitting way to settle things.
  • ASADA has landed. The deals they have offered Cronulla are so lenient as to make me think either they don’t have enough evidence to really nail the culprits or they have grown tired of their 1000 year investigation and want to have something to show for it. Either way probably not the best way to handle a high profile investigation. I feel like I may have said that before.
  • Ballboygate. The only thing I will say is on the night it looked like the Eels didn’t tap the ball with their foot anyways. It seems like a storm in a teacup. Slow news cycle? At least it wasn’t as bad as the Hazard ballboy incident.

Other random thoughts 

  • The PNG Hunters were brave but beaten by a strong Wynnum-Manly club on Sunday which boasted NRL fringe players Jake Granville, Mitchell Frei and Jordan Kahu. That probably puts their finals hopes to bed but as mentioned previously the PNG Hunters have had a successful season no matter which way you look at it. The League of Extraordinary Gentleman mentioned that the Hunters first season was not unlike the Broncos first season in 1988. That has to be a good sign. 

Bill James Award 

Greg Inglis – Run Metres – 146m, Tries – 3, Try Assists – 1, Tackle Breaks – 6, Tackles – 9, Offloads – 0, Line Breaks – 1, Line Break Assists – 0, Errors – 0 and Players who are sorry they stepped in front of GI – 17 Broncos (but mostly Josh Hoffman). 

I’m going to give Jarryd Hayne an honourable mention again. I watched his game against the Bulldogs and thought that he didn’t have as big an impact as I thought he would. When I looked back at his statistics he amazingly amassed 242 run metres, 1 try, 1 try assist, 8 tackle breaks and 1 line break assist. Even his quiet games are statistically dominating. I should be calling him Hayne Plane 2.0. This is the best season he has had since 2009. The Dally M will be Jarryd Hayne first and daylight second.

NRL Tips for Round 24 

Home teams first

Bulldogs vs Tigers – Bulldogs (Bulldogs are partially back on track now but it won’t matter as the Tigers aren’t playing for anything anymore and that is a bad place to be for a young side. That being said I think the Bulldogs are making up the numbers this season – you could probably say the same for my tipping)

Eels vs Sea Eagles – Sea Eagles (The Eels have had a horrendously hard run to the finals and if they make it then they would certainly have earned it. Unfortunately the Sea Eagles will make sure they don’t get the 2 points this week)

Broncos vs Knights – Broncos (Knights are a different side in this last trimester of the season but Broncos will be desperate and they are at home)

Rabbitohs vs Cowboys – Rabbitohs (The Cows are playing for their place in the 8 this week although all of their rivals have difficult match ups. That being said I think this Rabbitohs team is building for something special and will be hard to beat. They are brutal)

Warriors vs Roosters – Warriors (Roosters have been hunted all year long and have the odd niggling injury to worry about. They will be mentally exhausted. The Warriors on the other hand are getting a few of their players back and will be hard to beat at home. This will be one for the ages though.)

Sharks vs Raiders – Sharks (Sharks should win this one but hard for them to focus with ASADA finally landing after the 1000 year investigation. If we had relegation this one would be relevant (actually it wouldn’t because both teams would already be certainly dropping down to NSW Cup))

Dragons vs Titans – Dragons (Henry had the Titans primed for last week and this will be closer than most people think. Ultimately I think Dragons will be too good. The Dragons are still a mathematical chance of making the finals. Actually, technically so are the Titans but their odds are so remote they can’t be calculated without 8 zeros on your calculator. Needless to say they’ve booked their Mad Monday flight to take off just after round 26)

Panthers vs Storm – Panthers (The Panthers have officially flown under the radar all year which is quite the achievement. I think they will sneak up on the Storm this time. Storm haven’t been that convincing this year and even less so away from home)

Last week – 5/8 

Season so far – 97/168 

EPL Tips for Round 2  

Home teams first

Aston Villa vs Newcastle United – Draw 1-1 (Villa came away from last week’s trip to Britannia Stadium with a surprise 3 points in their kit bag but I think the Geordies will find their feet this week. After all their first game was against Man City)

Chelsea vs Leicester – Chelsea 3-0 (Chelsea feasted on a brave Burnley team last week and this should be more of the same. Cesc Fabregas showed he has plenty left in the tank. Hazard to fire this week)

Crystal Palace vs West Ham – West Ham 1-0 (Don’t expect many goals in this one. Palace to be tight at the back again but the Hammers should do enough to get across the line)

Southampton vs West Bromwich Albion – Southampton 2-1 (Southampton were gutted during the transfer window but were only just pipped by Liverpool last week. I expect them to have too much for the Baggies at home)

Swansea vs Burnley – Swansea 2-0 (The Swans had too much for an early season Man U still trying to buy into Van Gaal’s way of thinking and should add to Burnley’s early season pain)

Everton vs Arsenal – Draw 2-2 (This will be a cracker and I don’t expect there to be anything between these two sides. Everton at home to do just enough to hold the Gunners to a draw)

Hull vs Stoke City – Hull 1-0 (Hull were surprising winners away to QPR last week and I expect them to narrowly shade Stoke City this week in the safe confines of home)

Tottenham vs QPR – Tottenham 2-0 (Spurs should do this comfortably. Enough said)

Sunderland vs Manchester United – Man U 2-1 (Man U should have won last week and are again favoured to win this one. I think Van Gaal with an extra week on the practice pitch will have too much for Sunderland. He’ll make some adjustments)

Manchester City vs Liverpool – Man City 3-2 (I can’t wait for this one. Man City should have just enough attacking brilliance to outshine Liverpool’s attacking brilliance)

I’ve adopted the scoring system utilised by Mark Lawrenson on the BBC (a correct result (picking a win, draw or defeat) is worth ONE point and picking an exact score THREE points) and even though he wouldn’t know me from Adam we are going head to head all season long. It’s on like Donkey Kong (unless I get a letter from his lawyer or Donkey Kong’s lawyer and then I’m tipping against myself again).

Last week – Me – 6 and Lawro – 6 

Season so far – Me – 6 and Lawro – 6 

Question for you

When do you think the Cowboys will win a premiership?

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode on Thursday, 28 August 2014 titled ‘Long has been the Winter of our Discontent – Once were Warriors – Part 4’

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3 thoughts on “Long has been the Winter of our Discontent – Cowboys, Dazed and Confused – Part 3

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