Less than two weeks to go and the footy will be back.
I blame the army. There are many things many people blame the military for, but the reason you support rugby league’s least glamorous team is generally not one of them.
You see, based on family history there is absolutely no reason why I should support the North Queensland Cowboys. None whatsoever.
Growing up I can’t remember even watching a single game of rugby league on the TV. With a Victorian-raised father it was always the Aussie Rules dominating our weekend viewing, I knew only of games with four posts, handballs and points for just missing.
In fact, the first game of rugby league I can remember watching was the 1988 grand final between Canterbury Bulldogs and Balmain Tigers. Everyone in the room bar one bloke was supporting the Bulldogs, so I decided to be different and cheer on the Tigers, who promptly lost 24-12.
The next game I watched was between the Tigers and the Canberra Raiders. Supporting the Tigers was obviously a no-go given their 0-1 record when I supported them, and besides, I’d actually lived in Canberra and knew where it was.
Although down 12-2 at halftime, the Raiders made a stunning comeback, first scoring in the last 90 seconds to level the scores before scoring a field goal and try in extra time to win their first premiership.
So at nine years old I’d been introduced to rugby league, watched what many considered one of the greatest grand finals of all time, and picked a team that represented somewhere I’d actually lived before.
They might not have been a Queensland-based team, but that didn’t mean there weren’t some quality Maroons there: Mal Meninga, Gary Belcher, Steve Walters, Steve Jackson off the bench. Yep, the Raiders were my team. Couldn’t get enough of anything lime green.
Then the Cowboys came in.
Now our family has no real link to the city of Townsville other than the fact the army posted Dad there between 1980 and 1983. It just so happens it was that time period our parents welcomed their two eldest sons into the world, giving us a link to Townsville now recorded faithfully on our passports.
Since leaving in 1983 I’ve been back twice: once in 2004 and once again last year. That’s it.
For a nomadic 14-year-old born in Townsville and who hated all things Broncos, this was a god-send though. I could support a Queensland-based team, from where I was born, that apparently produced lots of good players. Success couldn’t be that far away?
1996: 17th out of 20.
1998: 16th out of 20.
1999: 16th out of 17.
2001: 13th out of 14.
This is way too depressing to continue.
It wasn’t until 2004 that we finally started to come good. The round 24 match against the Wests Tigers was our first match on free-to-air television since, oh, our very first match ever back in 1995! A couple of weeks later we were back on Channel 9 for our maiden finals game, taking on the second-placed Bulldogs.
By this point I was living in Cooma NSW, a place about as far removed from Townsville in terms of weather and lifestyle as you could get. There was only one other Cowboys fan in the whole town – thankfully he lived in the upstairs flat – and together we cheered on the team as they shocked both the Bulldogs and Brisbane (yes, yes, sweet Lordy yes!) to come within a whisker of making the grand final.
Next season was even better: a grand final loss, sure, but a grand final!
With players like Jonathan Thurston and Matty Bowen leading the attack, surely the bad old days were over?
2006: ninth out of 15.
2007: third out of 16.
2008: 15th out of 16, including a 13-game losing streak.
2009: 12th out of 16.
2010: 15th out of 16, not 16th only because Melbourne weren’t allowed any points.
Last season was good though. Last season we made the finals for only the fourth time ever, losing to eventual premiers Manly. This is an improvement, although still a step down from midway through the season when we were entrenched in the top four with wins over the other top-four sides to our credit.
Being a Cowboys fans is like being in that Chumbawamba song: you drink a whisky drink, drink a vodka drink, drink a lager drink, drink a cider drink: anything that makes the pain of last weekend go away. You get knocked down, then you get up again, they’re never gonna keep you down, because you’re a Cowboys fan, and that’s what Cowboys fans do.
Seriously, I blame the army.