Barefoot footy and stinky headgear. This is why you should be cheering for the Cowboys.

September 29, 2015

There were tears in Townsville when they lost the last one.

Even the bushies were wiping eyes. Before heading back to the bar at the Leagues Club.

No point dwelling on it. It’s only a game. Two pots thanks love.

The Cowboys faithful had dared to dream. A grand final after ten years. So close.

Reality hit, as the Tigers were presented with their medals in Sydney. Premierships are so bloody hard to achieve.

This club is different to any other. Not bigger, or better. Just different.

When the fans go to home games .. it’s not your normal bus trip. Try four hours each way. And then some.

There are tiny towns dotted through Western Queensland .. where they gather in the pub each Saturday night, to cheer the Cows.

The discussion will turn to the forecast. Any rain out your way? There’s a new Flash Harry PM eh? And with small talk done, they’ll move on to the important stuff. Is JT’s groin stuffed?

Head into the Cape, way up north, and you’ll hear kids laughing. In that cheeky North Queensland way. There’ll be a footy close by. The game could resume at any time. Shoes optional. Don’t fall for his dummy.

That’s how it was every arvo in Hopevale. Not sure if google maps does street view there. Fiji is closer for some of you.

A little bugger named Matty Bowen starred in those never-ending battles in the front yard. Years before be became a Cowboys legend.

The supporters are different too. Not better or more passionate. Just different.

Success on the footy field, gives so many hope. In communities where lifestyle problems make a game of footy seem insignificant. In towns where day to day dramas are much more serious than Michael Morgan’s ankle.

But when the Cowboys are winning, life gets a little sweeter. Maybe it WILL rain soon. If JT can do it, then maybe I can too?

And so, to the bloke who inspires them the most. So much rests on the skinny shoulders of this proud indigenous Queenslander.

Don’t dare call Thurston a hero. He doesn’t want that. He’s a wonderful footy player, who knows life could have taken a very different turn, had he not been inspired to use those God-given talents.

Every time he gives that sweaty, stinky headgear away, another kid goes to sleep, dreaming big.

The beauty of this grand final is that Queensland can’t lose. The powerhouse that is the Broncos, will have the other half of the state delirious if they send Hodgo out a winner.

The Broncos expect it. They’ve won before, and they’ll win again.

I hope it’s not their day. That the Supercoach is denied. I want to hear an almighty roar in the North.

I want farmers to have a little sleep in, because of their celebrations. Just this once.

I want the front yard games to start early, and finish later, with the kids commentating on the match-winning try.

I want a generation of young North Queenslanders, to see that hard work does pay off. That one day, they’ll be giving away the smelly headgear.

Here’s to wiping away a few tears on Sunday night. Before the bushies head back to the bar. With bloody big smiles.

It’s great to be a Queenslander. Especially if you were born in NSW.

July 3, 2012

Blame Matty Bowen. It’s all his fault. If he hadn’t been so bloody quick, I might never have come clean.

Origin One, 2005. One of the all-time great encounters. At Queensland’s home of rugby league.

Scores locked at fulltime. Both teams spent. Fans hoarse. Extra time. The game’s finest, digging deep, searching for reserves that only the very best possess.

Legs like jelly. Lungs screaming for air. Eyes scanning for just one more opportunity.

It came, from a stray pass. Blues halfback Brett Kimmorley deserved better. He tried something, and it backfired. A state would never forgive him.

He went wide, searching for one last runner. The stocky number 7 fired off a pass, and immediately wanted it back. Because the ball was heading to a Maroon.

Not just any Maroon. A little bloke from Hopevale, deep in Cape York. With blinding speed, even in the 84th minute.

As soon as that Steedon landed on Matty Bowen’s chest, the Blues knew they were gone. The Maroons knew they were home. Wild, passionate cheering erupted across the state.

In the stadium, thousands leapt to their feet. Me included. Screaming for the little Cowboy to get to that line. Hugging the bloke in the next seat. Concrete foundations rocked by one giant Happy Dance.

It was only after I had unlocked myself from one of those manly embraces in Row 16, that it dawned on me what had just happened. My true feelings had bubbled to the surface. Confirmation, for me at least, that I was now a Queenslander.

For a few years before that night, I had been in the sporting Twilight Zone. I wrote about it on these pages twelve months ago. And plenty of readers told me that they had been there too.

That difficult, uneasy time when you don’t know where home is. Do you support your birthplace, or your home address?

It’s true, I was Blue when I first arrived north of the border 22 years ago. But the fire faded, gradually. The passion shifted, as I realised that the wonderful patch beyond the Tweed would be home forever more.

I couldn’t cheer for a state I no longer had feeling for. And was never going back to. Hence, the Twilight Zone. And I was stuck there for years.

That’s where you just enjoy the quality of the football. The ability of those involved. Without actually supporting anyone. Safer that way.

Friends down south accuse you of being a turncoat. Born and bred Queenslanders don’t want you, until you’ve served your time up here. What’s the timeframe? They won’t tell you.

Just when I thought I would never know, magical Matty provided me with the answer. By getting me so excited that night in 2005 that I forgot what the rules were.

Right about now, the predictable chorus kicks in. State of ORIGIN, you fool. How hard can it be? You don’t have a choice.

It’s that time when I have to explain to those who have trouble lacing up their own shoes, that Origin has nothing to do with it. For the players, and the fans. It’s a title only.

So here we go again. If it really was State of Origin, Peter Stirling would have been a famous Queensland halfback. The mighty Greg Inglis would be lining up for the Blues tonight.

Ken Nagas is a Bundaberg boy, who gave his all for the Blues.

Tenterfield lad Billy Moore would never have uttered the immortal ‘Queenslander’ call. He would have charged out of that tunnel, yelling ‘New South Wales-er.’ Doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?

Can I be any clearer? All those players were born in the state they ended up doing battle with.

Big Petero would never have played an Origin game. Nor would Tonie Carroll, Brad Thorn, Ben Te’o or James Tamou. Kiwis and Pacific Islanders all.

For fans, the rules are even less defined. But trying to change sides is more difficult than mastering Chinese scrabble. And because there’s so much at stake, that’s probably a good thing.

The funny thing is, my true mates get it. They don’t care. Sure, there’s good-natured ribbing this time every year. But they know. And they’re happy for me.

I have great friends who live here in Queensland, long time residents, who’ll be Blues till the day they die. They’ve made the choice to stick to their birthplace. And I’m happy for them.

For some reason, my love of all things Maroon infuriates those who I have bugger all to do with anymore. People I’ve had no contact with in thirty years, track me down, only to get themselves into a lather. As if I’ve broken a family code.

Well, good people, let me clarify once and for all. I couldn’t care less. All that matters, is that I can sit with my daughters tonight, dressed in Maroon from head to toe. We’ll cheer like lunatics for Queensland. Their home state. My adopted state. And there’ll be boos for the Blues.

State of Origin is all about passion. For everyone involved. That’s why we embrace it like we do. But don’t be confused about home-town loyalty.

Home is where the heart is. And mine now pumps Maroon. Go Queensland!