The Sunday Mail (Queensland)

GRAND JOUR­NEY

- GRANTLEE KIEZA

W AY TO ALL THE WHO RODE WESTS

THE WBOYS E T O G THE CO HURDL CENTR

E, WHO AMON FI­NAL OF AN WAS FALLIN - EX­AMP

G AT THE TACKL ING LE BOWM TOUGH PERFE CT

ATELY G, E UNIT AGO, PAUL UL­TIM UNNIN , R ‘THE RMANC

AS PERFO YEARS FI­NAL HARD- IBED

A DESCR WBOYS TEN GRAND AS ’ HIGH- THE NRL YEARS CO

12 TT ONCE SPENT BENNE THE . HE UP TIGERS WAYNE HEADS

COACH NOW SLAND AN QUEEN BOWM

GE’. COURA N MA­ROO THE Cowboys are rid­ing high with a real shot at this year’s premier­ship. But things were much tougher when the club kicked off 20 years ago. You were there from the start? It was very dif­fer­ent back then. Af­ter train­ing, the play­ing group would pitch in to lay turf on the hill around the ground be­fore the start of the sea­son ... We all had jobs, so football was a part­time sport. I had been at the Uni of Queens­land do­ing hu­man move­ment but I de­ferred and worked in a sports store in Townsville to pay the bills. The Cowboys’ de­but game against the Bull­dogs in 1995 was a bit rough and ready. The jer­seys only ar­rived on the day of the game and Kerry Boustead, the CEO, had to run around putting pa­per in the por­ta­ble toi­lets just be­fore kick-off. It was all very last minute. We had a skele­ton staff and it was all hands on deck. Af­ter we’d laid turf around the ground, it rained and there was a worry that the turf would go rolling down the hill. There were a lot of things Kerry had to get done above and be­yond what a CEO would nor­mally do. But we had a real com­mu­nity spirit. You started in ’95 but it took a while to make the top side? My first-grade de­but was against Souths in Round 16. I played re­serve grade prior to that, which was a re­ally good ground­ing we don’t have to­day. The un­der-20s to­day is very dif­fer­ent. Re­serve grade was a

SUN­DAY SES­SION good ed­u­ca­tion be­cause guys like Lau­rie Spina played re­serve games as well and you learned a lot play­ing along­side them. It was a great thing for North Queens­land to have its own team. Be­fore then play­ers had to move at least 1200km to Bris­bane or be­yond to play at the top level. That first year in ’95 is one of the high­lights of my ca­reer. North Queens­land was starved of elite level football for so long but it’s al­ways been a strong re­gion for rugby league. For Townsville and North Queens­land to have its own side was a great boost for the whole re­gion. Ev­ery town around us was on board. You ended up with the wooden spoon in the first year, two wins and 20 losses. We didn’t have much suc­cess on the field but the at­mos­phere on the ground and in the com­mu­nity was un­be­liev­able. We prob­a­bly had the big­gest crowds we’ve ever had, an av­er­age of around 20,000. This year you had won nine of 11 away games en­ter­ing this week­end, an as­ton­ish­ing tally. What’s the dif­fer­ence? Our away record was a bit of an Achilles’ heel. I know Peter Burge, the elite per­for­mance man­ager at Rich­mond AFL Club, who was a long jumper for Aus­tralia from Townsville. Rich­mond have to travel to Perth a bit and I’ve been pick­ing their brains about chang­ing sched­ules ... In the past we would typ­i­cally do a 45-minute to one-hour ses­sion on the day we’d travel, so play­ers would have to start at 8.30am. The guys would have to rush to their air­port for a three-hour flight to Syd­ney. Con­se­quently they’d be a bit worn out ... We shifted our day off to three days be­fore the game and we do our fi­nal main ses­sion two days out from the game with a light 25-minute work­out be­fore we travel. It has made a huge dif­fer­ence. You’re fa­mously a North Queens­land stal­wart but you were born in New­cas­tle. My fa­ther’s a vet. He stud­ied at Queens­land Uni as well. He got locum work in New­cas­tle and we had about 12 months down there with mum and my sis­ter, who was born in Bris­bane. I don’t have any mem­ory of New­cas­tle. My fam­ily moved to Proser­pine straight af­ter that and have been there ever since. You played 203 games, for a long time the club record. Matty Bowen and a few guys have gone past now, but I’m very proud I played so many games here. I never re­ally con­tem­plated go­ing any­where else. My fam­ily have had sea­son tick­ets from day one. My wife’s from North Queens­land, and her fam­ily too. In 2003 you suf­fered a bad knee in­jury on the new Sun­corp Sta­dium sand­pit. But you wouldn’t come off. Wayne Ben­nett said If we were look­ing for a per­fect ex­am­ple of Ma­roon courage, it was you. You could hardly walk but kept throw­ing your­self into tack­les. I didn’t re­ally stay on that long but I just had to do my best. I couldn’t get my po­si­tion right to make a tackle be­cause I couldn’t move too well. Then be­cause I couldn’t get into the right po­si­tion, I took a heavy knock to the head and was taken off. The Cowboys’ first win over the Bron­cos came in Townsville in the 2004 semi­fi­nals. It was the end of Gor­den Tal­lis’s ca­reer. We won 10-0. We’d come close against the Bron­cos a few times but that was a high­light in a great year. We had qual­i­fied for the semis for the first time by beat­ing the Bull­dogs and the re­cep­tion we got at the air­port was tremen­dous. We played the Bron­cos in the sec­ond week of fi­nals and had a full house. The Bron­cos al­ways had a huge sup­port base in the north but on this night the tide turned sig­nif­i­cantly and we had all the sup­port. It was a great win. How do you rate your ca­reer? I’m proud of the fact I played more than 200 games for the Cowboys and a dozen Ori­gin matches for Queens­land, a dozen more than I thought I would ever play. I’m proud I was able to play my whole ca­reer at one club and keep my fam­ily close. My last home game (in 2007) was also my 200th game, then we also had two home fi­nals. So I ended up get­ting three mag­nif­i­cent send­offs in front of my home crowd. Un­for­tu­nately though, I didn’t achieve the ul­ti­mate suc­cess. Los­ing that 2005 grand fi­nal to Wests still hurts? The Tigers scored af­ter you threw a dodgy pass early. Un­for­tu­nately we didn’t get the job done. That’s ob­vi­ously a re­gret but I don’t have many. We didn’t play our best football that day and I try not to think about that game too much. It was a won­der­ful time. Muzz en­joyed a beer and was great com­pany. Some of the best mem­o­ries I have in football are cel­e­brat­ing a vic­tory with mates and that’s some­thing he al­ways en­cour­aged. Muzz built ter­rific ca­ma­raderie. He felt that we worked hard and we needed to en­joy our suc­cess. Young North Queens­lan­ders such as Matt Bowen, Aaron Payne, Travis Nor­ton and Ash Graham rose to the top un­der him. Paul Green, the cur­rent coach, has a sim­i­lar phi­los­o­phy. Like Muzz he played at the top level and wants his play­ers to en­joy their suc­cess. You were one of the vic­tims when John Hopoate went on his in­fa­mous on-field prostate in­spec­tions. But you worked side by side with him this year with the Ton­gan team against Samoa. Kris­tian Woolf, who had worked at the Cowboys with our un­der­20s, was the Ton­gan coach and he re­cruited me. When he told me Hoppa was also on the staff, I said that the play­ers didn’t need the dis­trac­tion that might come with both us on the team. But we worked to­gether well. Hoppa’s ac­tion all those years ago was the ele­phant in the room. But I was im­pressed with the way he called on play­ers to be proud of their Ton­gan her­itage and per­form their ver­sion of the haka. I saw a dif­fer­ent side of him.

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 ??  ?? The late, great Graham Mur­ray was the coach then?
The late, great Graham Mur­ray was the coach then?
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