Cowboys' five-year plan comes to fruition
Five years after a disastrous 2010 NRL season instigated a wide-ranging review of the club's entire operations the North Queensland Cowboys have claimed the club championship for the first time in their history.
Celebrating their 20th anniversary this year and a decade since their lone appearance in an NRL grand final, the Cowboys NRL team will finish the regular season in third position regardless of the result against the Titans on Saturday night while the Holden Cup team can claim the minor premiership if they defeat Gold Coast in front of a crowd expected to be around the 17,000 mark.
Losses by the Broncos in both grades on Thursday night ensured the Cowboys would claim the mantle as the champion club of 2015.
Although proud of their achievement, they have bigger targets in their sight with a Week One finals showdown with Brisbane next week and a home final in either Week Two or Week Three.
Success at NRL level is largely the barometer for the health of a club but the Cowboys recognised five years ago that the work needed to begin from the ground up with better-resourced pathways for junior players coming into the under-20s system.
The result has been reflected not just in the high finishes of the two Cowboys teams this year but by the Townsville Blackhawks winning the Intrust Super Cup minor premiership in their inaugural season, the Townsville Stingers qualifying for the national final in both the under-16 and under-18 competitions and Kirwan State High School have qualified for the final of the GIO Schoolboy Cup.
"We are proud of it because we've spent a lot of time in the last few years trying to get the proper processes in place underneath our under-20s and this year in our under-20s we're starting to see the result of that work," said football manager Peter Parr.
"We went to the board a few years ago saying that we felt we had to put some more resources into what was happening beneath our under-20s and to our board's great credit they supported us in that and now we're starting to see the results of that.
"The NRL team has been strong for a number of years now and so for everyone involved it's been a nice reward for a lot of hard work."
In recent years the Cowboys have put greater resources into Academy programs in Townsville, Cairns, Mackay, Rockhampton and Brisbane with three legends of the club in Micheal Luck, Aaron Payne and Ashley Graham heading up the elite junior development programs.
Graham and Payne were both members of the 2010 squad that won just five games in finishing 15th and Parr paid them particular credit for the work they have done since their playing careers came to a close.
"Those three should take a lot of credit for this and the thing that Micheal talks a lot about is having a seamless transition from the Academy program into the under-20s system," Parr told NRL.com.
"We cover such a large geographical area and it presents a lot of challenges but those three guys have done a tremendous job."