Cowboys' best-ever 13 raises Thurston question
North Queensland will name the best 13 players to ever don a Cowboys jersey at the club's 20th anniversary dinner on Saturday night but there's no guarantee Johnathan Thurston will be named at halfback.
The 20-year team was hand-picked by current and former head coaches including Paul Green, foundation mentor Grant Bell, Murray Hurst, Tim Sheens and Neil Henry.
Cowboys football manager Peter Parr said he was delighted to have input in the voting process from such pivotal pieces in the club's history.
"The only criteria we gave them were that every player must have played 50 games with the club to qualify. It was very good of them to participate," Parr told NRL.com of the coaches' input.
"That was the fairest way to do it to get a reflection on all those different areas."
As for the names, there are few secrets as to numbers 1 and 9, but Parr says there was conjecture as to the club's second-most capped player, Johnathan Thurston.
"I don't think there is any doubt that Matty Bowen would be fullback and Aaron Payne would be hooker," Parr said.
"But there was a bit of contention as to Johnathan [Thurston's] pick because he's played a lot of games at five-eighth as well as halfback at our club."
As founding CEO and driving force behind the establishment of the Cowboys, Kerry Boustead fancies long-time centre and captain of three years Paul Bowman to fill a spot in the centres.
"I think Paul Bowman will get a run, I've got no doubt about that," Boustead said. "He's still there at the club and he was there from day one.
"We [Boustead and Bell] found him on the fields of the Whitsundays just playing at the local club and we thought, He can play all right this bloke."
Bowman was a debutant in the inaugural Cowboys side that was one of three clubs introduced to the ARL in 1995.
It was a rough year to say the least for that side, going 2-20 over the 22-game season and subsequently finishing last of the competition's 20 teams.
Laurie Spina was only ever supposed to play a bit-part in that inaugural season having been dragged off the family farm in Ingham, but when high-prized recruits Dean Schifilliti and Jason Martin both succumbed to injury, Spina came to the fore.
"The bloke who held that team together and which was a very hard thing to do at that particular time was Laurie Spina," Boustead said.
"'Singy' [Wayne Sing] got the award for player of the year that year but Laurie Spina was the backbone of the side. Dean Schifilliti, he got injured straight away and played only one game all season.
"It was such a young side and it was a side that needed leadership and 'Schif' could have provided that, which is why we got him. When 'Schif' got hurt we were really lucky that we had someone of Laurie's calibre still there."
"Although he was fairly old and all the rest of it at that stage, when he directed people around the field they did what he said because he had the reputation and he was a really good ambassador for the club as well."
The Cowboys did it tough for the best part of a decade, not reaching the top eight until the club turned a corner in 2004 under the club's most tenured coach Graham Murray.
North Queensland went 12-11-1 that year to sneak into seventh place, which would start the wheel turning for a disconsolate club that saw nothing but disappointment for 10 years.
They long carried a stigma for buying players past their use by dates, but since Parr's introduction the club has gained more traction on the NRL scene.
"Two of the best buys we made were Kevin Campion and Paul Rauhihi and people thought both those guys were past their use by dates when we got them and culturally they were wonderful for the club," Parr said.
"We had a skeleton staff when I first started, so we've been able to grow the club over that time. We've got a lot more respect around the competition than what we had then.
"When I first got here North Queensland wasn't a club of choice so sometimes when you're in that situation you might want to attract players but you're just not in a position to do so.
"We still get some feedback from agents that the tyranny of distance between here and say Sydney is still something that holds us back in some of our recruiting endeavours.
"At least now as opposed to when I first started here, agents are willing to take the call and hear you out about who you might want and I don't get a chuckle down the line now when I inquire about a player coming here."
The Cowboys have certainly come a long way over the past 20 years and Parr says there is no reason why the trend cannot continue looking toward the next 20.
"I think that everyone that's been at the club in my time, the biggest thing we're proud of is that it's stable and it's going to be here for a long time."