Rivalry comes full circle

When the North Queensland Cowboys ran on to what was then Stockland Stadium for their inaugural game on March 11, 1995 the team waiting for them were the Sydney Bulldogs.

Twenty-five seasons later, the now Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs are set to be involved in another monumental moment in Cowboys club history.

The Bulldogs will visit 1300SMILES Stadium in Round 24 in 2019 – a fixture which will be the final ever regular season game played at the only home ground the Cowboys have ever known.

Acting Cowboys CEO Jeff Reibel said it would be a fitting farewell before the club moves to the new North Queensland Stadium in 2020.

 "The Bulldogs were the team we ran out against in our first ever game in the NSW Rugby League, to farewell 1300SMILES Stadium against that same club is some great synergy for us," he said.

The lead-up to that original game in 1995 will go down in Cowboys folklore. Heavy rains the night before the game flooded the stadium and crusher dust had to be trucked in so the 23,000 fans could walk through the mud, while the lighting of the stadium almost sent the surrounding suburbs into blackout.

The game itself was a remarkable spectacle. Six minutes into the game Laurie Spina-led Cowboys were reduced to 12-men after centre Adrian Vowles was sensationally sent-off for high tackle on Bulldogs centre Matthew Ryan.

Eighteen minutes later Bulldogs lock Jason Smith joined Vowles on the sidelines after being sent off for a high shot of his own.

The Cowboys trailed 20-8 after an entertaining first half and eventually went down 32-16.
Since then, the two sides have built up a healthy rivalry, meeting 37 times in total, with the Bulldogs holding a 22-15 advantage in the head to head match-up.

Among the notable clashes are a 30-22 Cowboys qualifying final victory in during their first finals campaign in 2004, although the Bulldogs would rebound to win the premiership three weeks later.

The two met again in a qualifying final three season later, with the Cowboys claiming a memorable 20-18 win in Townsville.

Their history became further intertwined when a skinny halfback by the name of Johnathan Thurston defected from the Bulldogs to the Cowboys in 2005. He would go on to win the first of four Dally Ms in his first season in North Queensland and ended his career – still wearing Cowboys colours – in 2018 as one of the greatest to ever step on a rugby league field.

Many more chapters in the Cowboys-Bulldogs are still to be written, but only one more will take place on the hallowed turf of 1300SMILES Stadium.