With Part 1 analysing the people behind the scenes, the players make up Part 2.
I can still remember sitting down to watch the North Queensland Cowboys on Channel 9 for the first time. It was a Sunday game in 2004 against the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown.
At the time I was living in a small brick flat in Cooma, NSW, a town not known for having many Cowboys fans.
I can’t remember too much about the match itself, although a Google search reminds me the Cowboys won 24-12 in what was their first Channel 9 game since, well, since their first-ever game back in 1995. In 2004 I also didn’t have an internet connection that would allow sneak peeks at the final score given Channel 9’s curious commitment to not showing Sunday afternoon games live.
A lot’s changed since then. In 2005 the Tigers made the finals and twice gained their revenge on the Cowboys, flogging them 50-6 in the first round of the finals before winning the grand final 30-16 in what remains both clubs’ only grand final appearances.
More importantly for this weekend’s match, the Cowboys hadn’t beaten the Tigers in Sydney since then; indeed, they’d only won two out of their last 10 matches against them. Early signs weren’t that great, with Matty Bowen fumbling a Benji Marshall bomb of the Tigers’ first set of six to allow Tim Moltzen to score. A Marshall penalty soon after and it seemed as though the TV might go off in favour of, well, pretty much anything else.
Give the Cowboys some quality possession though and they’ll take advantage – Glenn Hall crossed first before Jonathon Thurston held a pass back just long enough to send Antonio Winterstein over in the corner. Thurston continued his good form from Origin with the sideline conversion to give the Cowboys a 12-8 lead.
So four points up, three minutes from half-time, possession on the halfway line. Thurston receives the ball then notices Robbie Farah coming up for some unwanted attention. Thurston hurriedly passes to Bowen, who taps the ball out to the winger, who then runs through and puts the ball down under the posts. A lovely piece of play if you’re a Tigers’ fans – the winger at the end of the Bowen pass was former dual international Lote Tuqiri. Marshall added the extras to give the Tigers a 14-12 halftime lead.
The second half was worthy of any match, anywhere. Time and again the Tigers threw everything at the Cowboys’ line; time and again desperate defence was all that stood between the Tigers and the match-winner. Early in the second half Marshall made a break from a kick return, getting through everyone except forward James Tamou. Tamou belied his size, apparent speed and the fact he was coming off a sapping State of Origin debut earlier in the week to stop Marshall from bolting away.
Marshall would eventually have his way, crossing himself in the 57th minute to extend his team’s lead before Tamou popped up again, this time with a 60m run that would have led to a try had a Cowboys back been within 10m of him. They arrived for the next play though: Thurston to Bowen to Graham for the try. Thurston again potted the sideline conversion to keep the Cowboys within two with 12 minutes to go.
That was as close as it would get. Wave after wave of Tigers attack wore down the Cowboys defence; Bowen managed to hold up Tigers’ forward Chris Heighington over the line before Tim Moltzen finally put the game out of reach.
So the Cowboys’ three-match winning streak came to an end, albeit in a highly entertaining game against a side many tipped as premiership favourites pre-season. While they had their chances and came up short, strong defence and the fact four players were backing up from Origin means that this loss is one you don’t get too disappointed about.
And who knows? Given the way both teams played you couldn’t discount a 2005 grand final rematch in this year’s final game.