North Queensland have farewelled their spiritual home in Townsville with a rugged 15-8 NRL victory, which ended the Bulldogs’ finals hopes.
On the first Sunday night in October 2015 I was on the edge of my seat. The Cowboys were attacking the Broncos line for one final shot at the try line.
We know what happened. History was made. The Cowboys won their first title in one of the great grand finals.
In 2017 the Cowboys showed their resolve and, despite a depleted and injury-plagued team, made the grand final. Though they didn’t win, they did their area proud.
The area the Cowboys represent is its strength. The Cowboys were brought into the competition in 1995. Their inclusion surprised many and made some in the game wonder what the leaders of the Australian Rugby League were thinking. It gave momentum to the Super League movement.
However, as a fan of the game it makes sense to have a team representing such a region. The Cowboys serve all in the north and far north. Central Queensland seems divided between support of the Cowboys and the Broncos. This is good news for the Cowboys, for where once the Broncos had the whole state to themselves, they now have their fair share.
Although the north Queensland, far north Queensland and the people of the Isaac, Mackay and Whitsunday regions combined consist of an estimated population of 700,000 people, the problem for the Cowboys is that so many of its fans live so far away. Cairns to Townsville is a five-hour drive. This example is typical of the distances that many fans travel to see the Cowboys play.
What this means is that any home game not on a Saturday night is likely to draw a very poor crowd. Hopefully with the NRL controlling scheduling the Cowboys will always have home games on a Saturday evening.
A new stadium is in the works. This is good news as the Townsville region needs projects that create jobs. Furthermore, 1300Smiles Stadium is not a world-class venue. Maybe some people enjoy it for the fact that you are close to the action, but the new stadium should achieve this as well.
From the early designs the new stadium should also cover and protect the majority of the crowd from the elements. It rarely rains in Townsville during the football season, but it’s still not pleasant being caught in a downpour either. Moreover, plans are that it will be located in the city centre. If Townville also improves its transport and parking options, the stadium has the possibility of bringing not only rugby league to life but the city centre as well.
Going forward all is looking pretty good for the Cowboys. However, things could be improved, in particular the game day experience. I lived in Townsville and went to many games, and on occasions I felt the atmosphere was incredibly flat – so flat that I was embarrassed when I took a non-league supporter to a game. My friend was bored and, to be honest, so was I.
The idea of generating atmosphere included four guys doing push-ups after every try and some drunk guys beating on stadium panels chanting, “Come on, Cowboys”. Other than that, it was almost silent. It wasn’t flash. Granted, I haven’t been to see a game there for over two years, so maybe things have improved.
I don’t mention the lack of atmosphere to insult the club. Although I don’t support the Cowboys, I want them to be successful. The club needs to look at sports around the world to discover how they get their fans energised and how they get their fans to make some noise.
By noise I’m not talking about blasting music through the speakers so loud you can’t hear the person next to you; I’m talking about fan-generated noise that creates a buzz and atmosphere that has fans coming back for more.
In the meantime what should have fans coming back for more is the fact that Jonathan Thurston’s career is coming to a close. One more injury and that may be it, and 2018 may be it anyway. Although winning a title in 2018 may be tough, if Thurston stays fit and they show the strength of last year, then nothing is out the question.