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State League, then the realisation of a dream


By the 1980s the Foley Shield competition was still fiercely contested, however, North Queensland sides were also selected for the Queensland State League competition.

North Queensland in 1984 became the first regional side to reach the State League finals, losing to a powerful Wynnum Manly side which included Wally Lewis and three former North Queenslanders who were by now Australian representatives in Gene Miles, Colin Scott (both Townsville) and Greg Dowling (Ingham).


One of the 1984 North Queensland players was 17-year-old Dale Shearer from Sarina.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, North Queensland teams continued to compete in the State League competition, becoming the first regional side to win in 1991 under Coach Kerry Boustead.

North Queensland's captain Laurie Spina was a veteran of eight years of Sydney football before returning home to Ingham.

During 1989 Townsville rugby league administrators successfully hosted a televised National Panasonic Cup match between the Brisbane Broncos and Parramatta, attracting 16,000 spectators to the Townsville Sports reserve.

This match was such a resounding success, reflecting the passion North Queenslanders had for rugby league, that journalist Doug Kingston was inspired to write a newspaper column suggesting the time was ripe for a North Queensland side to bid for inclusion in the major Rugby League competition, the NSWRL, just like Brisbane and the Gold Coast had done the year before.

Some of the region's former rugby league Internationals had also suggested for some time that the North be recognised nationally in this way.

Wheels were set in motion towards realising this dream, with Executive Chairman of North Queensland Newspapers Ron McLean adding his valued support.

After a survey was conducted to gauge public support returned an overwhelming positive response, a major step was taken with the appointment of a promotions manager for the North Queensland bid.

Former International Kerry Boustead was appointed to this task in 1990.

Having widespread community, business and political support, the initial North Queensland bid committee, chaired by McLean, worked tirelessly to produce a strong case for North Queensland's inclusion.

The old Willows Paceway was offered by Queensland Sports Minister Bob Gibbs to the fledgling club, with local developers such as Joe Goicoechea and Laurence Lancini taking on the redevelopment of this site.

This became a major factor in the success of North Queensland's bid and widespread celebrations occurred in November 1992 with the announcement that three new clubs would join Auckland for inclusion into the "Australian Rugby League" competition, the North Queensland Cowboys being one of them.

From the outset, newly appointed coach Grant Bell and his team set out to develop a club based on local talent, mixed with some experienced players from the south; a pattern that was so successful decades before in the north.

The club included predominantly country bred footballers.

Many of the experienced southern players signed were in fact North Queenslanders returning home!

Ingham's Laurie Spina became the Cowboys first captain, with the inaugural Cowboys squad including experienced NSWRL players who originated in North Queensland Martin Bella (Sarina), Willie Morganson (Ingham), Dean Schifilitti (Ingham), Laurie Spina (Ingham), Leigh Groves (Cairns) and Brett Galea (Mackay).

Another notable signing for 1995 was Great Britain player Jonathon Davies and Queensland State of Origin player Adrian Vowles, who originally came from Charleville.

When Laurie Spina led the North Queensland Cowboys onto the field for their first ever match on March 11, 1995, Stockland Stadium, packed with enthusiastic and expectant supporters came alive with cheers as North Queensland took its rightful place on the stage of the Australian wide rugby league competition.

Of course North Queensland had been there for a long time already, but now it was to be a weekly event!