Cowboys INSIDER

• North Queensland Toyota Cowboys’ new Chief Executive Officer Greg Tonner officially started in his role this week. Tonner – a Townsville product who has been based in Sydney – has been working behind the scenes for a number of weeks and was on hand to see the Cowboys defeat Parramatta in Sydney (Round 13) and the Raiders in Canberra (Round 15). Tonner was at Friday’s player signing event at Cowboys HQ, where almost 1,000 under-11 junior rugby league players – competing in the annual Laurie Spina Shield – got to have their league gear signed by Cowboys players.

• Former Cowboys hooker and Townsville product Aaron Payne was MC for the player signing session and spent the morning speaking to various players and league identities, including Spina himself. With the carnival named in his honour, the foundation Cowboy was, as always, humbled to have the annual footy extravaganza continue for an amazing 19th consecutive year.

• Cowboys back-rower Gavin Cooper whipped the kids into a frenzy at the closed session, encouraging them to give their best war cries over the microphone. The young players responded in kind, giving several earsplitting renditions of their team anthems.

• Young front-rower Patrick Kaufusi is poised to make his NRL and club debut on Saturday afternoon in the round 16 clash against the Sharks at 1300SMILES Stadium. Kaufusi, 21, will become Cowboys NRL player No. 255 when he takes to the field, the young forward named to come off the bench. Patrick’s older brother Antonio, 30, played 33 games for the Cowboys over the 2009-10 seasons.

• Cowboys Spirit cheerleader Zahnee Stout features in this week's edition of Big League magazine, having made the next round of the popular Cheerleader of the Year competition. Zahnee, 21, is from Charters Tower and is thrilled to have been given the chance to compete in this way on the national stage. The nursing student takes on Eels cheerleader Maddy in the current round of voting. To vote for Zahnee, text “ZAHNEE” to 19 992 220.

• Saturday night’s Sharks game at 1300SMILES Stadium will be the Cowboys’ last home game for a month, with two road trips and the second bye meaning their next game in North Queensland will be again the Eels in Round 20 on Monday 27 July. In that time, the Cowboys play the Dragons (Round 17, Saturday 4 July) have the bye (Round 18) and travel to Sydney for a Monday night game against the Sea Eagles (Round 19, 20 July). Following that period, the Cowboys host games against the Raiders (Round 21), Rabbitohs (Round 23) and Titans (Round 26) to round out the season. The exact game dates for NRL rounds 21-26 is expected to be released at the conclusion of round 16, which ends with the Bulldogs-Storm game on Monday 29 June.

Main image: New Cowboys CEO Greg Tonner with U11 Laurie Spina Shield players