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Cowboys fans celebrate one of their team’s three tries against the Broncos in 1995.

It was the night that signalled the start of the most enduring Queensland rivalry within the National Rugby League but it was what happened at the end of 80 minutes that had the most dramatic repercussions.

When the Broncos first came to Townsville in Round 5, 1995, many of the 24,855 fans who flocked through the gates did so wearing Brisbane's colours, a trend that has been dramatically reversed over the past 20 years.

The Cowboys will celebrate 20 years of top flight rugby league firstly with Friday night's blockbuster against Brisbane at 1300SMILES Stadium before hosting a 20-year anniversary dinner for more than 1,000 people on Saturday night.

It's recognition of how far they have come in the past two decades but given the events of 1995 it is a wonder they ever got to a second season.

As North Queensland prepared for the biggest game in their short history the Super League war had broken out all around them, founding chief executive Kerry Boustead walking away when it was decided the club would backflip on an agreement to stay loyal to the ARL.

Inaugural coach Grant Bell had agreed to join Super League on the Sunday prior and provided News Limited executives with a list of five Cowboys players who they should make their priority to sign.

Six days later events on the field went largely according to plan with the star-studded Broncos team recording a hard-fought 20-12 win (scoring four tries to three) but it was after the massive crowd had dispersed that players' lives changed forever.

"After the Broncs that night there was a whole swag of them that were signed and there were some that weren't," Bell recalls.

"That's when Martin Bella didn't sign. He signed with the ARL and probably influenced a few other players to sign with the ARL.

"That was the infamous night of Mick O'Connor jumping out of a window to avoid people. He never jumped out of a window to avoid people, he was trying to get through and we had a crowd of people at the front of the stadium door and he was trying to get to a player.

"He was jumping out the window to get into the dressing rooms because there was no access to the dressing rooms after we'd played the Broncs."

"Most of them signed up after the game at my offices, where the admin is now," Boustead adds. "He (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."



Despite being instructed not to spend a cent of the bonus cheques they had been handed that night there were some who simply couldn't resist, with one player believed to have dropped his entire $30,000 upfront payment at the casino later that night.

But if that wasn't enough drama for a club still endeavouring to find their feet more was to follow, with Bell to discover his coaching tenure would not last beyond a season in the wake of the club's first win over Illawarra in Round 8.

Waiting on a player contract to be sent through, Bell left his office when he heard the fax machine whir to life only to find that it wasn't the contract he was waiting on; it was a signed contract for Tim Sheens to become coach of the Cowboys.

"We were still in the euphoria of having won our first game, we'd played away and gone really well... I put the fax back down and went back to my office," said Bell.

When new CEO Rabieh Krayem asked whether Bell had seen something on the fax the 33-year-old first-year head coach denied it, only admitting to it weeks later.

"I said to Rabieh, 'Remember that fax you asked whether I'd seen? I actually saw it; it's probably time for a conversation,'" Bell told

"He said 'Sheensy' was coming in but not for the next year. I had several meetings with Sheensy and he said he wanted me to stay in the chair through 1996 and then work in with him and if things worked out I'd stay on in '97 as his assistant coach or reserve grade coach.

"That changed at some point. I don't know why, but I believe there was a belief in the club that they needed profile. 'It's Super League, we can't have Grant Bell who hasn't got a big name.' And they went and sourced Graham Lowe and that made things really difficult through the back-end of the year."

As Bell tried valiantly to inspire the competition newcomers to more victories, in the background there were discussions with Sheens about player retention as Lowe began his own conversations with players he wanted to sign for 1996.

"'Lowey' and I had a very strongly worded conversation about Reggie Cressbrook where he directed me to play him at five-eighth and I refused," Bell said. "I said, 'This is my football team, you want to play him at five-eighth you do that next year.'

"So there was a lot of this background stuff going on around what the club was going to look like. I had Sheensy saying he wanted me to talk to certain players about signing them, Lowey had his own agenda of who he wanted for '96 so it was really difficult."

Acknowledgement of Country

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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