Cowboys back-rower Coen Hess should improve on his nine NRL appearances to date in 2017.

A junior rivalry like no other

Rugby league has a long and decorated history of rivalries.

When Cowboys back-rower Coen Hess was growing up in Mount Isa in Queensland's central west, the rivalry between the Blackstars and the Wanderers was the only one in town.

Literally.

There were no other teams to play anywhere close by.

As the drought hit hard and families either left the region looking for work elsewhere or simply couldn't commit to a season of footy, for two years of his junior rugby league journey Hess and his fellow Blackstars turned up every Saturday to face the Wanderers many of whom were friends from school.

"There was time there where there was only ever two teams so we'd just play the same team week in and week out and then grand final day you'd have a one-off game that was the grand final," Hess told NRL.com.

"You could have beaten them 20 times in the season and then they rock up on grand final day and win the comp.

"One year Wanderers were pretty dominant throughout the year and then we rocked up on grand final day and won.

"It was a bitter-sweet moment in some ways; got smashed all year and then won the grand final. You don't hear that too often."

Now one of the game's brightest young talents and on the verge of Origin selection for Queensland, Hess was born into a rugby league family who were the bedrock of rugby league in Mt Isa as he grew up.

His father, Warren Hess, was club president of Blackstars which meant that young Coen was down at Alec Inch Oval when the first game kicked off and was there when full-time was blown in the last game of the day.

"Dad was the club president of our team so I was always down there first and would watch the games before me, I'd play my game and then watch the games after it," Hess said.

"If Dad wasn't running the show he'd be refereeing or something like that so I'd be down there from 8.30 and not leave until 4.

"I was born into a pretty footy-crazy family and it was always something I looked forward to."

As he grew – and grew and grew – Hess started to come to the attention of representative selectors and would often make the 10-hour trip from Mount Isa across to Townsville or 20-plus hours down to Brisbane to play in representative carnivals.

The food that was sampled on those long-haul bus rides would be enough to give a dietician diabetes but Hess says that they helped to forge friendships that remain strong to this day.

"They could drag on and you'd get sick of them – and we ate a lot of junk food – but you establish some pretty good friendships on those trips, mates that I'm still friends with today," he said.

For more information visit nrl.com/play

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