The allure of the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys stretches far and wide across the expanse of far North Queensland, from areas like Cape York in the north, Mount Isa in the west and Rockhampton in the south; it is a catchment area bigger than most European countries.
Then there are the fans whose love from the Cowboys is much further south. For the fans based in South East Queensland (SEQ), the distance between them and Townsville means very little when it comes to the way they celebrate and support the club.
While many would think there were only Broncos and Titans fans to be found in the neighbourhood in and amongst the hustle and bustle of Caxton Street in Brisbane, there is a very vocal, loyal and passionate and growing Cowboys fan base who are proud to wave the clubs colours any chance they get.
Closing the distance
I caught up with Cowboys member and SEQ Muster founder John Spencer to talk about how fans south of Townsville feel just as much a part of the family as those lucky enough to call the regional city home.
I first met John before round two this season, our first derby against the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium, where I got to see first-hand just how incredible it is to have Cowboys fans rally away from home base. I've since joined the Muster, a special collective which first appeared online.
John says, "I had the idea a few years back of trying to get a few people together to watch Cowboys games at a local pub, as I always see our jersey everywhere I go. On June 5 2017, I formed the South East Qld Cowboys Supporters page on Facebook."
Over two years on, John and the team decided on a name and 'SEQ Cowboys Muster' was officially born.
The Muster organises get-together's on game day at the Royal Exchange Hotel in Toowong. Pub manager Mark always makes sure there's a table ready in front of the screen and that the beer is cold.
John explains that, "some great friendships have been made at the Royal Exchange and the laughter and banter makes it feel warm enough that you could almost be at a home game up north."
"What started out as 'having a beer together and watching some footy' has grown into something that I never could have imagined, and it’s all a testament to the passion that people have for the Cowboys."
The group also meet at official member’s meet and greets organised by the Club and then gather to cheer the boys on at Bay 13 in Suncorp Stadium.
"Members are proud of what our boys achieve, personally and professionally and being a part of this group allows them to connect with people who feel this same pride," John says.
It is the strong connections made through the mutual love and support of a team, which is where the real strength of rugby league lies. It has a beautiful way of uniting people and the ability to forge friendships that may never have existed; friendships that can last forever.
For Cowboys fans who are not based in Townsville and who are not able be with their tribe at all home games, the role that club members like John Spencer play in connecting fans across South East Queensland should not be underestimated.
Turning to 2020
The news and excitement surrounding the new stadium has created a tangible buzz for members and fans, and so it is no surprise the SEQ Muster wanted to be a part of the new era.
A number of the SEQ Muster have decided to make the pilgrimage north for the first game in the new stadium – round one against the Cowboys biggest rivals, the Brisbane Broncos.
John told me that what started as a group of a dozen people turned into something more.
He says, "It's now a group of 30 flying together to break in the new stadium, as well as an additional 20 who we'll meet there so that we can all sit together and cheer as one."
As the first whistle is blown in the new stadium, SEQ Muster members will feel at home surrounded by their Cowboys family, and it will be a moment that they will never forget.
For fans who do not get to make all the home games, there is nothing more exhilarating than being a part of the roar as they players run onto the field. Your chest swells up and as you look around and take it all in, you realise you are standing shoulder to shoulder with other Cowboys fans who share the passion and your pride that you have.
It is a moment that a fan from Sydney like me soaks in each and every time, so I know how special it will be for the SEQ Muster fans. There is absolutely nothing like it.
For the SEQ Muster members who cannot make the pilgrimage, you know where you will be able find them; loud and proud in their Cowboys gear, walking along Brisbane streets until they reach the Royal Exchange, where the drinks are cold, and all Cowboys are welcome.
The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys have launched single (Distant Star) and supporter (non-ticketed) membership packages to suit regional and interstate supporters. Full season membership packages are also available, with other multi-game packages to be released in January. Single game tickets will go on sale mid-February.