Fullback Matt Bowen’s re-signing with the Cowboys this week could not have been more perfectly timed, leading into Close the Gap round, which kicks off on Friday night at ANZ Stadium with the Reconciliation Cup between the Bulldogs and Cowboys.
If ever a player should stay at one club, it’s him. He’s great for the Cowboys. He attracts so many young indigenous players from the north who want to play the game because he plays. He is quiet and unassuming; trains hard and he doesn’t drink or smoke. He is such a great role model for indigenous children.
Having worked closely with Bowen and other great indigenous Cowboys players like Johnathan Thurston and Matt Sing during my time at the club as coach, I have seen first-hand how much work they do and what a difference these players make to Indigenous Australians in North Queensland and the remote communities.
Close the Gap round aims to help tackle the tragic life expectancy gap that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and the role that sport, and our game's stars play cannot be underestimated.
In my day, there weren’t as many indigenous players because they weren’t encouraged to play like they are now, but there is one in particular who stands out who I used to love playing with and against - Arthur Beetson.
I got to know him at the back end of his career, and I always learnt something from him. As a coach he had a way of making you feel like you didn’t want to let him down. Teams really tried hard for him. He was an inspiration.
I am certainly much richer for the experience of playing with him. I learnt a lot from him that helped with coaching - how to encourage and get best out of people.
The indigenous players love the game; they are talented and fast. Rugby league is made for them.
Look at Bowen - after 219 games and overcoming two career-threatening knee injuries in 10 years, he still has speed and his return to form has played a big role in the revitalised Cowboys’ charge for a top-four finish.
In fact, I think the Cowboys could finish second. A lot of people have been forgetting about them, but they've been going along nicely - chipping away, winning three of their last four matches even without Thurston.
That has actually been a real bonus for them. JT is resting his body, and seeing how he started the season after a good rest, things are looking good for them. He will probably play in a couple of weeks which will give him a few games before the finals, and his first with Brent Tate and Willie Tonga together in the centres.
They won’t catch Melbourne but I reckon they can run second. The Storm are proving to be a standout, winning their past 10 consecutive games. Last weekend was a good example of a team ready to get beaten at 18-nil down in the second half and a few team changes forced through injuries.
They never gave up, which is the trademark of a good football team. They played the game not the scoreboard.
On the other hand, the Dragons probably felt like they were supposed to win by 20, instead of losing by 10 to the Rabbitohs on Sunday after scoring four tries in the first 18 minutes to lead 20-0. They needed someone to say ‘you’re not just given wins you have to earn them’.
But I am not keen to jump on the wagon to write them off. They will be up there in the four along with either the Broncos or Sea Eagles.