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Cowboys players thank the crowd after their first premiership game in 1995.

Twenty years after walking away from the club he built literally from the ground up founding Cowboys chief executive Kerry Boustead will this week make an emotional return to Townsville as part of the club's 20-year anniversary celebrations.

The all-Queensland blockbuster against the Broncos on Friday night will serve as the backdrop to the club's celebrations with more than 1,000 people expected to attend the anniversary dinner on Saturday night where a best Cowboys team from the past 20 years will be named.

Having guided Townsville to a Winfield State League title in 1991, Boustead headed up the bid to have a North Queensland team entered into the then Australian Rugby League and in 1995 his dream became a reality.

He and inaugural coach Grant Bell took turns sleeping at the ground in order to turn the sprinkler system on and off during the night and as the crowd poured through the gates before their Round 1 clash with the Bulldogs Boustead was the one stocking the 200 port-a-loos with toilet paper.

Yet just four weeks into their existence Boustead tendered his resignation purely on principle as a result of the club's decision to align with Super League, he, his wife Leigh and their four children leaving North Queensland heartbroken and teetering financially.

Earlier this year Cowboys chairman Laurence Lancini extended the olive branch and invited Boustead to join the Cowboys' board, an offer Boustead said went a long way to healing some old wounds.

"It was terrible. I'd sold my house in Sydney because I wasn't earning the money I was supposed to be earning up there and so I was short of money," Boustead told of his decision to resign.

"I've got four kids and stuff to do, bills to pay, so I sold my house in Sydney and started using that money to survive during that last year because there was no money.

"I said that our saving grace would be that I would eventually get the job [as CEO] and when I get the job that will pay it back; I had the job for three weeks. We left and came to Brisbane pretty much broke."

The astonishing backdrop to the first clash between the Cowboys and Broncos in Townsville in Round 5, 1995 was the Super League war that was breaking out all throughout the code.

On the day that the Super League raid was launched – April 1, 1995 – the Cowboys were preparing for their fourth game in the ARL against the Raiders and seven days later after losing 20-12 to Brisbane in front of 24,855 fans, Cowboys players were signing on with the rebel league.

Ten 10 days earlier the Cowboys had pledged their commitment to the ARL and when the backflip occurred Boustead said he had no option but to walk away.

"If I give someone my word... What's your word worth if you can change it like that? No one would believe me again in my life," said the Maroons and Kangaroos legend.

"It was my job to listen to both sides and then after that they decided to go ARL because we got offered a start at ARL and Super League wouldn't offer us a start. Super League were Broncos orientated and the Broncos didn't want any other club in Queensland. They wanted Queensland to themselves. Even my boss, the chairman, said we'll go ARL because at least we've got a start.

"I had a hell of a week that week just because you were unsure of what was going on. All the players had gone to Super League; I don't know what team we were going to run out.

"Most of them signed up after the game at my offices, where the admin is now. [Michael O'Connor] came in through the side or something because the door was closed and then all the players were in there waiting for him.

"All the players were told to wait there for him so he was going through them offering all sorts of money."

Twenty years on Boustead is delighted to have been welcomed back into the Cowboys' fold and said he will always be proud of bringing top-level ruby league to North Queensland, particularly that game against the Bulldogs in Round 1.

"I was most proud of that first game, getting it to that point," said Boustead. "No one can take that away; we did that, we got it going. Painful letting it all go but you've got to do what you've got to do and so you just move on.

"Everything that we'd spent all those years putting together – and there were things that could have gone wrong on the day and things that did on wrong on the day – but we rolled them in and rounded them up and that was the proudest moment that I'd had outside of playing for Australia, having that first game come off."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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