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Year 20 - 2014

New head coach Paul Green took the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys to yet another NRL finals appearance in 2014, but again their campaign for a first premiership ended with a heartbreaking loss in arguably the match of the season.

After seeing off their arch-rivals Brisbane in the first week of the finals series in front of a partisan crowd of 25,120 at 1300SMILES Stadium, the Cowboys ventured to Allianz Stadium to face the reigning premiers, Sydney Roosters.

A horror start saw North Queensland fall 30-0 behind but with their season seemingly a lost cause, they showed amazing courage, determination and skill to fight back to 30-all with five converted tries in 22 minutes before the midway point of the second half.

A 75th-minute James Maloney field goal ended up giving the Roosters a 31-30 victory but not before the Cowboys had a potential match-winning try to Johnathan Thurston in the final minute ruled out by the on-field officials, a decision confirmed by the video referees box. Pocket referee Gavin Badger found a contentious Robert Lui forward pass in the build-up.

The Cowboys were angrier, however, about the non-call of what appeared to be a clear Roosters obstruction in front of their goal posts when the scoreline was still level.

It was the third straight year that NQ had exited the finals in controversy, each occurring against a Sydney club.

After a slow start to Green’s first season as the players became accustomed to new playing structures installed by their coach, the Cowboys rocketed home to finish fifth on the ladder with 32 points and the best defensive record in the club’s history (406 points conceded at an average of 16.9 points per game).

North Queensland won a club record 10 straight matches at home to finish off the home and away rounds before making it 11 with the 32-20 defeat of the eighth-placed Broncos in the week one elimination final.

Another club record came in round 22 when the Cowboys smashed Wests Tigers 64-6 at 1300SMILES Stadium to set a new mark for the biggest margin of victory in NQ history.

The Cowboys’ best victory for the season, however, probably came away from Townsville – a 22-10 victory against eventual premiers South Sydney at ANZ Stadium to complete a season double against the Rabbitohs.

It was part of a red-hot patch of form that saw Green’s team win seven of eight matches with their only loss – by one point - coming against Penrith.

Season 2014 will also be remembered as one of co-captain Thurston’s finest in an illustrious NRL career as he again showed why he is regarded as one of the best players in the game.

After starting the year by winning a second Golden Boot as international player of the year, the always competitive and influential JT, who led the NRL in try assists and linebreak assists, ended it by winning an equal third Dally M Medal as the NRL’s Player of the Year, sharing it this time with Parramatta’s Jarryd Hayne.

He also won the Paul Bowman Medal as Cowboy of the Year for the third time and a third RLPA Players’ Player of the Year award.

State of Origin’s most durable player, JT extended his record for consecutive Origin appearances to 30 and also broke the record for most points scored by a player in Origin history, surpassing current coach Mal Meninga.

However, the champion halfback/five-eighth experienced his first series loss for nine years as the Blues, with James Tamou in their lineup for two of the three matches, clinched a 2-1 victory.

Co-captain Matt Scott and Brent Tate both played in the opening two games, but serious injuries they sustained in a ferocious Origin II prevented them from lining up in Game III.

While Scott was able to return from his fractured cheekbone later in the season, and finished runner-up in the Paul Bowman Medal voting, Tate’s fourth anterior cruciate ligament rupture ended both his year and his outstanding career at age 32.

Brought to the club as part of the large player roster overhaul for the start of the 2011 season, the courageous Tate tallied 67 matches for North Queensland to take his career total to 229 games to go with 26 appearances for Australia and 23 for Queensland.

The Cowboys also said goodbye to the popular Sims brothers, Ashton and Tariq, who totalled 162 NRL matches between them during their four seasons with North Queensland. Ashton ended his time in Townsville by winning the Club Person of the Year Award.

Several players achieved very significant individual milestones during the year:

  • Johnathan Thurston moved past 1,500 points for his Cowboys career thanks to a club record haul of 234 points for the season, beating Josh Hannay’s previous record by four points.
  • Gavin Cooper reached the 100-game mark for North Queensland, while Michael Morgan (who revelled in his new role at fullback), Jason Taumalolo and Kane Linnett all played their 50th games for the club.
  • There were NRL debuts for John Asiata, Curtis Rona, Sam Hoare, Zac Santo and Ben Spina, as well as club debuts for Cameron King, Tautau Moga and Matthew Wright.
  • Ashton Sims not only captained the Cowboys for the first time when co-captains Thurston and Scott were absent, he also led Fiji in the May Four Nations qualifier against Samoa.
  • Jason Taumalolo made his international debut for his homeland New Zealand in the end-of-season Four Nations tournament against Australia, England and Samoa and starred as the Kiwis captured the title with four straight wins, including two against the Kangaroos.

In the Holden Cup, North Queensland missed out on qualifying for the finals for the third straight year, finishing 12th (eight wins, 16 losses), but there were plenty of positive signs for the years to come with the Townsville Stingers, dominated by Cowboys contracted NYC squad members, winning the Mal Meninga Cup and national under-18s title.

There was double title joy for the Cowboys’ Intrust Super Cup affiliate, Northern Pride, who won their second premiership in club history, beating Easts 32-4 at Suncorp Stadium before backing up a week later to claim the inaugural NRL state championship with a come-from-behind 32-28 defeat of highly-fancied Penrith at ANZ Stadium.

Cowboys contracted winger Javid Bowen scored a hat-trick of tries and won the man-of-the-match award against Penrith after clinching a double against Easts.

Fellow Cowboys Joel Riethmuller, Ricky Thorby, Ethan Lowe, Kyle Feldt, Patrick Kaufusi and Ben Spina were involved across the finals – Thorby, Lowe and Spina lining up in both title deciders.

North Queensland’s other ISC affiliate, Mackay Cutters, were unable to make it back to the finals after winning their maiden premiership in 2013.

In 2015, the Cowboys will have a third ISC affiliate, the Townsville Blackhawks, based out of the Brothers Leagues Club, adjacent to Cowboys HQ.

With the benefit of an extra home game – the final against Brisbane which attracted the year’s biggest crowd - more than 200,000 people watched the Cowboys at 1300SMILES Stadium during the season.

The round 26 clash with Manly drew the largest audience in the home and away rounds (22,521), while the average crowd for the year was 15,422, up more than 1,300 people on the previous year.

Membership continued to rise and surpassed 12,000 for the first time with 12,020 members joining the Cowboys Stampede.

New signings for 2015 include Test and Origin front-rower Ben Hannant (Brisbane), Jake Granville (Brisbane), Junior Kangaroos representative Kelepi Tanginoa (Parramatta) and Kyle McConnell (Burleigh Bears), while Josh Chudleigh was promoted from the NYC squad to be a full-time member of the NRL squad along with Ben Spina, who earned his first full-time contract.

The club farewelled assistant coach Terry Matterson, who joined the Gold Coast Titans; assistant coach and former recruitment manager Adrian Thomson, who became the football operations manager at the Townsville Blackhawks; and NYC coach Todd Wilson, whose contract ended after a three-year stint in charge of the under-20s.

Jason Demetriou, who took the Pride to their two titles in 2014, signed on as an NRL assistant coach.

Joel Riethmuller, Anthony Mitchell, Curtis Rona and Ricky Thorby all had their final playing seasons for NQ. Mitchell and Thorby were among the first signings for the Blackhawks.

Season statistics

• Captain(s): Johnathan Thurston, Matthew Scott, Ashton Sims
• Coach: Paul Green
• Won 14, lost 10
• Points for: 596; points against: 406
• Top point scorer: Johnathan Thurston (234)
• Finished: 5th
• Cowboy of the Year: Johnathan Thurston
• Average home crowd: 15,422

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
• Samoa: Tautau Moga, Antonio Winterstein
• Fiji: Ashton Sims
• New Zealand: Jason Taumalolo
• Australian Prime Minister’s XIII: Michael Morgan
• Country Origin: Tariq Sims