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'I was badly bullied at school - and this is how the Cowboys dealt with it': Why they're the pride of the north

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Expert
2nd January, 2022
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This is Part 8 of my series speaking with fans from all NRL teams to see what it’s really like to support their team.

If you missed it, read about what a couple of Sharks fans had to say about following their side.

This week, the North Queensland Cowboys.

Joining the competition in 1995, the Cowboys are the pride of the north. A team with a large geographical area all to itself, they have a special place in the heart of the local community.

Producing legends like Michael Morgan, Matt Scott, Jason Taumalolo, and of course, Johnathan Thurston, the Cowboys have always been an exciting team to watch, filled with entertainment, athleticism, and talent.

Despite the names that have played for the Cowboys, the team haven’t always reached the expected levels of success.

The history books show three wooden spoons, bottom-eight finishes and two runners up titles in 2005 and 2017.

But their crown jewel was in 2015, when they won one of the most exciting grand finals in NRL history. Beating the Brisbane Broncos, in a nail-biting golden point finish, thanks to the boot of none other than JT.

This past season was filled with constant injuries, a forced retirement of a club legend, poor form on the field and a new coach trying to juggle it all. 2021 did not go to plan for the Cowboys, but their fans were behind them every step of the way.

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And sometimes it’s what a team does off the field that has just as much impact – and makes their fans love them even more.

I decided to go down a different path for this piece and speak to some younger fans. Young fans who not only support the club but have received support in return. I spoke with Jack from North Queensland and his Cowboys-supporting dad Graeme, as well as Ashton, who lives over 2000 kilometres away from the team.

The boys have had special encounters with the club, so I asked them to share their experiences.

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“The St George Illawarra Dragons are our local team,” Ashton begins, “and last year most of my class went for the Dragons. I got bullied at school, and one of the things the kids would pick on me about was going for the Cowboys.

“But I didn’t care – I never stopped loving my team.

“When the Cowboys played the Dragons in 2020, I prayed that we would win. And we did! Valentine Holmes kicked the winning field goal right at the end – it was awesome. I cheered and cried so much. I was so happy to go to school the next day!

“My mum emailed the club to tell them about me and how much that win and the team meant to me. The next day I got a surprise video message from Josh Hannay, who was the coach then, and he and the team thanked me for my support from so far away, and Josh told me to be proud and walk tall.

“I was also sent some Cowboys merchandise. It was amazing.”

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Jack has also been affected by bullies at school, but his experience was much more personal. Jack suffers with severe health issues, which has unfortunately seen him on the receiving end of a lot of torment from his peers.

“I was being bullied – badly,” Jack explains, “and the club found out about it. They asked me if I would like to come to training and meet everyone, so Dad brought me down. I have been to training a few times now. All the players know me, and they made me feel much better.”

Valentine Holmes

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

“They have made Jack feel so welcome and have been a huge help giving him confidence and making him realise that he is not alone,” adds Graeme.

“I can’t thank them enough and I’ve noticed a huge difference in Jack since we met them all.”

I asked the fans when and why their love for the team began.

“I became a Cowboys supporter when I first moved to Townsville in 1998 from Brisbane,” says Graeme. “Being surrounded by other supporters in a one-team town, and the whole community getting behind them is the best. They in turn also give a lot back to our community.”

Jack adds: “I became a Cowboys supporter when I was born, because Dad was!”

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Ashton never followed in his parents’ footsteps by supporting their teams, but the reasoning to go out on his own was too logical for them to argue with.

“When I was in preschool, I realised that Woody from Toy Story was a cowboy, and that was it! I was a Cowboy for life!”

I asked who their favourite players were – past and present.

“My favourite player is Kyle Feldt because he scores lots of tries,” Jack replies. “My past favourite was Gavin Cooper because he played well every game.”

Kyle Feldt and Justin O'Neil of the Cowboys celebrate after winning

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Graeme’s current favourite player is Reuben Cotter.

“He was unfortunately injured most of last season, but he’s an absolute gun when he’s right. Great defender and tackling style especially. Hard to go past Thurston as my past favourite player. He has done it all – one of the greats of all time.”

Ashton agrees.

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“JT is my favourite player ever. He was the best, and a great leader. My favourite now is Taumalolo. He is just awesome.”

Speaking of the big bopper, there has been a lot of talk about his performance on-field and how he is being utilised. I asked Graeme what his thoughts were on him.

“I think Jason is learning a new style of playing and it’s going to take time. Aside from that he had several injuries this season which would have definitely hampered him during the year. I’m looking forward to seeing him have a huge season next year and hopefully remain injury free.”

It’s no secret that it has been a tough few seasons for the Cowboys.

I asked Graeme what they need to do to turn it around, if Todd Payten is the right man to lead the way, and how he feels about Chad Townsend joining the team.

Cowboys coach Todd Payten looks on

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

“I believe they need to work harder on defence, which I’m sure they are, and stop leaking so many points.

Regarding Payten, I do think he is the right man for the job. It was always going to take some time for the players to adjust to a completely different style compared to Paul Green’s more structured way, and they had been playing that way for so long.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what professionalism and experience Chad brings to the side. I’m expecting big things from him with a fresh start at a new club. I was talking to him a couple of weeks ago and he is really enjoying it here, loves our new stadium and all the new facilities they have built.”

I asked the fans what they were looking forward to most about next season.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the Cowboys win a lot more games and I think Hammer (Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow) is going to have a big year,” Jack tells me.

Ashton agreed.

“I think Hammer is going to be our superstar next year. And I’m looking forward to hopefully getting up to see my first home game!”

Graeme adds: “I’m looking forward to seeing them win a lot more games and being more consistent. I’m hoping they all have a big year and all play well.”

This last question is always my favourite, but I knew it would have extra sentiment today.

If these fans could say anything to the team, what would it be?

“Thank you for being my heroes,” Ashton answers.

“I know we haven’t gone very good for a while, but I will always support you no matter how we go or how far away I am. I know we will have a better year next year.”

Jack’s answer was short and sweet: “I’d like to thank them for all being so kind to me.”

And Graeme spoke as a fan, a father and a local.

“I’d like to thank them for everything they have done for us. Not only us, but for everything they do in our community and what they do for Townsville and North Queensland as a whole.”

After a tough 2021, Cowboys supporters are hoping for a lot more success in 2022. But when you hear about what the team does off the field, I’m sure they will always be seen as champions through the eyes of their fans.

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