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Year 19 - 2013

The 2013 NRL season was a rollercoaster ride for the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys who made the finals for a record third consecutive year, only to be eliminated once again amidst a huge officiating controversy.

It will also be remembered as the farewell season for life member Matthew Bowen who ended his outstanding NRL and Cowboys career after playing 270 matches and scoring 130 tries – two of his many club records.

The Cowboys’ year started well with a round one victory against 2012 grand finalists Canterbury at Gosford, which followed the news that Test trio Johnathan Thurston, Matthew Scott and James Tamou had all signed new long-term contracts, but the team wouldn’t find consistency until after the State of Origin series was complete.

The goal of a top-four finish was just about gone by the halfway mark of the competition and even a top-eight spot looked highly unlikely when North Queensland dropped as low as 13th place on the ladder.

With the team performing below expectation, the club’s board elected to end head coach Neil Henry's contract at the end of the season after round 20.

Former Cowboy Paul Green was later appointed to the role on a two-year contract.

It may have been a coincidence, but the news their coach would not be on board for 2014 appeared to spark the Cowboys who played with renewed freedom and went on an impressive six-game winning streak, including beating title favourites South Sydney 30-10 at 1300SMILES Stadium, to storm into the top eight.

In week one of the finals, North Queensland encountered Cronulla at Allianz Stadium and were eliminated 20-18.

It was revealed during the game that the Sharks’ first try had been scored on a seventh tackle after the match officials had messed up the tackle count.

The post-match furore was immense but the Cowboys, who also had a last-minute try to centre Kane Linnett overturned by the video referee, had no recourse to reverse the result.

Several players achieved significant individual milestones during the year:

  • Matthew Scott and Ash Graham became only the seventh and eighth players respectively to reach the 150-game mark for the Cowboys.
  • Johnathan Thurston, Dallas Johnson, Brent Tate, Ash Graham and Ashton Sims all brought up a double-century of NRL matches. Johnson and Graham retired at season’s end. 
  • Scott Bolton and James Tamou joined the 100-game club that includes just 16 Cowboys.
  • Glenn Hall moved past 150 NRL matches.

For some individual players, it was a year of triumph in the representative arena, with Brent Tate, Johnathan Thurston and Matthew Scott all members of the Queensland State of Origin squad that clinched an eighth consecutive victory against New South Wales, whose lineup included Cowboys front-rower James Tamou in games two and three.

Tate won man-of-the-match in the game three decider and the Maroons’ Peter Jackson Medal for the player who best exemplifies the Queensland spirit, while Scott picked up two players’ player awards.

Thurston, meanwhile, continued to show his ironman attributes by taking over the record for most consecutive Origin matches – a mark he had stretched to 27 by the end of the series.

Thurston, Scott and Tamou played in Australia’s Test win against New Zealand in Canberra in April, and were joined by Tate in Australia’s Rugby League World Cup squad, giving the Cowboys the largest representation of any of the 16 NRL clubs.

All up, 14 Cowboys from the 2013 NRL squad played in the end-of-season tournament in the UK, Ireland and France, while assistant coach Terry Matterson was in charge of the USA Tomahawks.

Earlier in the representative season, James Tamou played for the NRL All Stars for the first time against the Indigenous All Stars who scored a convincing victory at Suncorp Stadium with Johnathan Thurston as their captain.

In the National Youth Competition, North Queensland made a late charge for a finals berth, jumping from 16th to ninth thanks to a club under-20s record of six consecutive victories.

However, they fell back to 10th on the final ladder after losing their last two matches.

Three Cowboys – Chris Grevsmuhl, Patrick Kaufusi and Zac Santo – made the Queensland under-20s State of Origin squad, while young front-rower Michael Barclay was included in the Australian Schoolboys squad.

There was grand final joy for the Cowboys’ Intrust Super Cup affiliate, Mackay Cutters, who won their first premiership, beating Easts 27-20 in Ipswich with five Cowboys contracted players in their lineup.

Both Michael Morgan and Anthony Mitchell scored tries with the hooker winning the Duncan Hall Medal as the grand final man-of-the-match.

Jason Taumalolo, Kalifa Faifai Loa and Sam Hoare made up the rest of the Cowboys contingent who, along with their Cutters teammates, dedicated the premiership to former teammate Alex Elisala, who passed away just after representing Samoa in a one-off Test against Tonga.

The Cutters eliminated the Cowboys’ other ISC affilate, Northern Pride, at the preliminary final stage after the Cairns-based club were convincing winners of the minor premiership.

The 2013 season was the first year that Townsville-based dental firm, 1300SMILES, held the naming rights to North Queensland’s home ground, formerly known as Dairy Farmers Stadium.

Close to 200,000 people came through the gates for the Cowboys’ 12 home games, headed by the more than 19,000 members and fans who watched Matty Bowen’s last match in North Queensland.

The average crowd for the year was 14,112, fractionally down on 2012.

New signings for 2014 included former City Origin representative Lachlan Coote from Penrith, hooker Cameron King (St George Illawarra) and fullback Hezron Murgha (Northern Pride), while Patrick Kaufusi, Zac Santo and Javid Bowen were promoted from the NYC squad to be full-time members of the NRL squad.

The club also farewelled strength and conditioning coach Glen Murphy who had been part of the Cowboys since joining the playing ranks in the inaugural season, as well as assistant coach Peter Ryan, who had been with North Queensland for their last three campaigns.

Season statistics

• Captain(s): Johnathan Thurston, Matthew Scott, Dallas Johnson, Glenn Hall
• Coach: Neil Henry
• Won 12, lost 12
• Points for: 507; points against: 431
• Top points-scorer: Johnathan Thurston (151)
• Finished: 8th
• Cowboy of the Year: Matthew Scott
• Average home crowd: 14,112

Representative players

• Queensland State of Origin: Johnathan Thurston, Brent Tate, Matthew Scott
• New South Wales State of Origin: James Tamou
• Australia: Johnathan Thurston, Matthew Scott, James Tamou, Brent Tate
• Papua New Guinea: Ray Thompson
• Samoa: Kalifa Faifai Loa, Antonio Winterstein, Alex Elisala
• Fiji: Ashton Sims, Tariq Sims
• Ireland: Rory Kostjasyn
• Scotland: Kane Linnett
• Tonga: Jason Taumalolo
• Australian Prime Minister’s XIII: Gavin Cooper, Brent Tate
• Country Origin: Tariq Sims