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Cowboys inspired by long-standing Defence Force ties

With Townsville being the country's largest garrison town, the North Queensland Cowboys have an intrinsic and proud connection to the Australian Defence Force.

The Australian Army even helped with building the club's first stadium before they entered the ARL competition in 1995.

After being unable to host an Anzac Round match last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic - though they created their own Defence Round later in the season - the Cowboys feel privileged to do so on Saturday night when they face the Raiders at QCB Stadium.

"You look at the population of Townsville – around 200,000 – 13 percent either work directly for the Defence Force or have some sort of connection, whether that be through family or ex-military in the Defence Force," North Queensland CEO Jeff Reibel told NRL.com.

"So for us to be able to play our part to commemorate Anzac Day – it's such an important day in a community like Townsville – is something that we're honoured to be able to do."

The Defence Force is a cornerstone of Townsville's economy.

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Its Royal Australian Air Force Base was established in the 1940s while Lavarack Barracks, Australia's largest army base, has been around since the 1960s. The RAAF is celebrating its 100th overall anniversary.

And when the Cowboys needed to repurpose Willow Sports Complex into a rugby league stadium prior to their inaugural first-grade season, the army played a part in getting it ready.

"The army was doing all the labouring work at one stage on the basis that they would get free tickets for the next year.

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"They sent us out a battalion of guys and they were great — disciplined as all hell," the club's first CEO Kerry Boustead told foxsports.com.au in 2015.

Reibel added this week: "The Defence Force were out there with logistical items, with labour items, along with the rest of the North Queensland community to do that [build the stadium].

"And that shines right through to now where we have engaged the Defence Force, whether that be with pre-season camps.

"But also, when you look at some of the injuries that occur out in the field in the Defence Force, they're very similar to some of the injuries that occur in our game. So we've been able to research and share [information] from a medical and a rehab perspective."

Inaugural Cowboys player and one-time Maroons representative Adrian Vowles recalled his team training at Lavarack Barracks.

"We went on that base a couple of times to do a couple of the agility courses and all that sort of stuff," Vowles told NRL.com.

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"We did a number of sessions there. We had a connection that way. It was quite good. One of the first things I noticed when I got [to Townsville] was how big that base was and how big a part it played in the town. Even from how many houses were rented out to the army."

North Queensland will wear a specially-designed Anzac jersey featuring a sprig of rosemary accompanied by a poppy as well as the poignant words "We called, they served" printed on their sleeves.

The match-worn jerseys will be put up for auction.

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Reibel said the many sacrifices of service men and women are greatly appreciated by the Townsville community and the Cowboys.

"What they do day in, day out to serve our nation - that's an inspiration to each and every one of us here at the club, and each and every one of us throughout North Queensland," he added.

The Army Thunder rugby league team will play the Palm Island Skipjacks in a traditional curtain-raiser to the NRL game on Saturday.

"We also have a pre-game Anzac tribute on the field which includes [the Ode and] the Last Post and a full tribute both to Australian and New Zealand Defence Force," Reibel said.

"We've got the 1RAR band that will be playing on the day as well. And we've also got a two-for-one ticket offer to all current and past serving [Defence Force] members to be able to get into the game."

Townsville City Council is partnering with the Cowboys for their second Defence Round event.

"I think a lot of our boys and players in the competition do have those ties with current and past family who have served our country," North Queensland centre Justin O'Neill said.

"It's a special round, it's a round that we're all very privileged to play. To be able to pay our respects and pay tribute to our past and current Defence Force ... We want to perform in front of our home crowd."