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The club stalwarts: New Zealand and North Queensland

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Roar Guru
2nd October, 2021
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This is the sixth article in a series naming each club’s best team of loyal stalwarts. Not necessarily just those one-club players but those who turned out for the club over a long period and helped build its success and culture.

Today we look at the New Zealand Warriors and the North Queensland Cowboys, two teams yet to reach their potential.

New Zealand Warriors

The Warriors entered the big time in 1995 and, despite coming close in both 2002 and 2011, are yet to win their first premiership. Just over 260 players have represented the Warriors to date, including one who has played over 300 games, three who have played 200 games or more and 22 with 100-plus games.

The Warriors team of stalwarts has been selected from players with 100 or more games for the club.

1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – 111 games
He was one of the best fullbacks of the NRL era and possibly the most talented player to ever take the field for the Warriors.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

2. Manu Vatuvei – 226 games
A massive winger who scored over 150 tries for the Warriors, he was nicknamed ‘The Beast’ for good reason.

3. Clinton Toopi – 129 games
A powerful ball runner and strong defender who made the transition from the forwards to the centres and was a regular member of the New Zealand team.

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4. Jerome Ropati – 145 games
A one-club Warriors man, Ropati was a pocket dynamo who could play most positions in the backline and even filled in at both lock and hooker when required.

5. Francis Meli – 110 games
Another big and powerful winger who enjoyed running straight over the top of defenders on his way to the line.

6. Shaun Johnson – 162 games and counting
A mesmerising ball runner when at his best and a prolific point scorer who has now returned to his spiritual home at the Warriors.

Shaun Johnson

Shaun Johnson (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

7. Stacey Jones – 261 games
One of the best New Zealand players of all time and a prolific point scorer who had the complete game for a halfback.

8. Sam Rapira – 173 games
A rough and tough performer who loved the contest, he didn’t bother too much with the subtleties of the game.

9. Nathan Fien – 105 games
A clever and tenacious player who transitioned to the dummy half role after starting out in the halves.

10. Joe Vagana – 115 games
A massive unit who owned the middle of the ruck. Not many opponents ever got the better of Big Joe.

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11. Simon Mannering – 301 games
A one-club Warriors champion and favourite son who holds the record for the most games for the club. A relentless performer who started his career in the backline and finished up as one of the best backrowers of the NRL era.

New Zealand Warriors

Simon Mannering (Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

12. Ali Lauitiiti – 115 games
Lauitiiti was big and hard to handle and also had terrific ball skills. He played 12 seasons in England after his six-year stint with the Warriors.

13. Logan Swann – 146 games
Yet another giant in this pack, Swann combined some subtle skills with his power game.

14. Lance Hohaia – 185 games
A very versatile player with great pace who could fill in anywhere in the backline as well as hooker. He’s an ideal bench player.

15. Jacob Lillyman – 188 games
A powerful forward who was hard to stop with the ball in hand as well as being a noted defender. He never took a backward step.

16. Monty Betham – 101 games
A talented backrower or hooker who was one of the most feared players in the game and was never far from the action.

17. Ben Matulino – 212 games
A towering prop or second rower who loved the bump and grind in the middle of the ruck.

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That’s a hot side. Some quality players who were eligible but were not selected include Awen Guttenbeil, Michael Luck, Ken Maumalo and Brent Webb.

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North Queensland Cowboys

The Cowboys also joined the league in 1995 and have played three grand finals, winning their sole premiership in 2015. Nearly 300 players have run out for the Cowboys since day one, including eight who have played over 200 games and 21 with 100 games or more. The following side has been selected from players with 100-plus games.

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1. Matt Bowen – 270 games
A prolific try scorer and possibly the best broken field runner of the NRL era, he is one of the Cowboys’ favourite sons.

2. Kyle Feldt – 154 games and counting
A prolific try scorer and one club Cowboy who at his best can score the most freakish of tries. He will long be remembered for scoring the critical 80th-minute try in the 2015 grand final to take the game into golden point.

3. Paul Bowman – 203 games
A one-club man and a great leader on the field who was known more for his superb defence than for his attacking skills.

4. Josh Hannay – 150 games
A powerful and reliable player and prolific point scorer for the club who made his first-grade debut at the age of 18.

5. Ty Williams – 151 games
A one-club Cowboy who proved himself to be a top-class finisher with great pace and brilliant footwork in his nine-year career.

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6. Michael Morgan – 168 games
A brilliant player who proved himself in every position in the backline with the exception of wing, he’s a one-club legend and member of the 2015 premiership-winning team whose was career cut short by injury.

7. Johnathan Thurston – 294 games
The number one Cowboy, he is their most capped player and was the captain of their only premiership winning team. Thurston is the winner of multiple awards is the most prolific point scorer in Cowboys history. Quite simply he is one of the greatest players to ever lace on a boot.

Johnathan Thurston

Johnathan Thurston (Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

8. Matt Scott – 268 games
Another one-club man for North Queensland, Scott played a key role in their 2015 premiership success He was a powerhouse performer every time he took the field and was one of the best front rowers in the game during his career.

9. Aaron Payne – 219 games
He played his whole career for the Cowboys and was consistently one of the best performers in the 11 years he spent with the club.

10. Carl Webb – 115 games
Put simply, Carl Webb was one of the most fearsome and ruthless players on the planet during his career. Every teams needs a Carl Webb.

11. Gavin Cooper – 247 games
He began and ended his outstanding 15-year career with the Cowboys. Cooper formed a great left-edge combination with Johnathan Thurston and ran in countless tries off his captain’s deft passes. He was part of the 2015 premiership-winning team.

12. Luke O’Donnell – 117 games
He wasn’t everyone’s favourite player, and he never took the field to make friends, but O’Donnell was one of the best and toughest forwards in the game at his peak. O’Donnell and Webb in the one team may just be overkill.

13. Jason Taumalolo – 211 games and counting
He’s a massive man and one of the most damaging ball runners in the game. Taumalolo has spent his entire career with the Cowboys and is a club legend.

Jason Taumalolo

Jason Taumalolo (Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

14. Jake Granville – 146 games and counting
He joined the club in 2015 and was one of the best performers in their premiership-winning team that year. A noted hooker, he has recently shown his versatility by playing both centre and fullback for the club.

15. Peter Jones – 131 games
Jones played his whole career with the Cowboys and was the first player to notch up 100 games. He had the versatility to play either in the back row or at five-eighth.

16. Scott Bolton – 247 games
A big old-style front rower who spent his entire 13-year career with the Cowboys, Bolton was a premiership winner in 2015.

17. James Tamou – 171 games
A big and mobile front rower who spent his best years with the Cowboys, he scored a critical try in their 2015 grand final win.

There were a host of players who were eligible but didn’t make this impressive team, including talented outside backs Justin O’Neill, Matt Sing, Kane Linnett and Antonio Winterstein as well as forwards Shane Tronc, Steve Southern and Ethan Lowe.

So who would win a fantasy match between these two sides? Both teams have outstanding spines, there’s not much between the outside backs of each team and the forward battle would be something to see.

In a tight game I’ll go for the Cowboys primarily because Johnathan Thurston would be leading them out onto the field.

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