This is more than a game of football
A dwindling mining industry and a drought that is strangling the economy with each passing day without rain has brought communities to their knees yet when the Cowboys play – and win – for 80 minutes the struggles are pushed into the back of the subconscious.
From Rockhampton in the south all the way to the top of the Cape and into the Torres Strait to Mt Isa 900 kilometres to the west, the Cowboys represent an area one-and-a-half times the size of Texas and it is a responsibility they have embraced.
Hundreds of fans crammed into Townsville airport upon their arrival back from Melbourne on Sunday afternoon, scenes that will be exceeded when their grand final heroes return next Monday, regardless of the result.
Now working within the club as a corporate and community ambassador, Cowboys and Queensland legend Brent Tate has visited many of these communities throughout 2015 with CEO Greg Tonner and has seen first-hand what the football team means to so many people, and why Sunday's Telstra Premiership Grand Final is more than a game of football.
"I'm still working and living up there and I just know how much [playing in the grand final] means," Tate told NRL.com.
"To be honest, if North Queensland get up and win the grand final it's probably a bit bigger than just a footy grand final.
"Our area is really struggling and doing it tough at the moment so it's probably a bit bigger than just a footy game.
"I don't mean to say that to put pressure on the boys but I just know what it would mean to that area and the people, it would give them hope.
"There are some towns up there that are really doing it tough and footy is a wonderful thing that gives people hope and I definitely know that the Cowboys being in the grand final has a flow-on effect through our communities.
"The boys have got the chance to do some real good, something really special."
Tate played the final 67 games of his 229-game career at North Queensland with the Cowboys qualifying for the finals series in each of the four years he played for the club.
While he is now more hands-on in reaching the communities that the Cowboys assist with programs such as Boots for the Bush, Adopt-A-School and the Cowboys Community Fund, he said that the players appreciate just how far-reaching Cowboys fans are spread.
"I've had the chance to travel through the regions this year and our footprint is huge," Tate said.
"We go right out to the Isa and as far down to Rocky and way up to the Torres Strait so our area is huge and there are a lot of people in those areas that are really affected by the drought, mining and all that sort of stuff.
"The footprint is big and we are more than just Townsville, we represent that whole region.
"It's something the boys don't take lightly. They understand that and the club does a great job reinforcing that to the boys.
"I went with our CEO through a few of these communities this year and they are really excited when they talk about the Cowboys and when you meet them you see the smile on their faces.
"But when you get down to talk to these people there are some people doing it really tough.
"It's not all doom and gloom but I just get the sense that it's a lot more than footy for the north."
First published on NRL.com