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The statue of the best player of all time, Johnathan Thurston, stands proudly at the front of Queensland Country Bank Stadium welcoming fans, immortalising the moment that wrote him into the history books forever and gave the Cowboys their maiden premiership. Bronzed and beautiful, our most valuable Cowboy now exists as a constant reminder of the moment the Cowboys and their fans got all they ever wanted.

When JT stood at the microphone after winning the NRL Grand Final in spectacular and heart-stopping fashion against the Brisbane Broncos in 2015 and asked that the people of North Queensland be given a new stadium, he could have only imagined how awesome that stadium would be. In his wildest dreams, he couldn’t have envisaged that five years later his comment would not only have become a reality, but that round one of the 2020 NRL season would see more than 22,000 passionate fans stream through the gates.

I arrived in Townsville on the Thursday before the game and had flights booked back to Sydney a few days later. With the time I had to spend in Townsville, I wanted to feel the energy the Cowboys bring to the town and enjoy the far north the same way the locals do. There was talk of bad weather and even a cyclone in the lead up to round one in Townsville, but as luck would have it, it was blue skies as far as the eye could see and not a drop of rain in sight.

As soon as I stepped off the plane there were Cowboys jerseys everywhere. I love the way this region gets behind this team. I always know that from my home, over 2000km away in Sydney, the Cowboys community is alive and well. It is also refreshing to blend in when in Cowboys gear as I am so often the odd one out back home. In Townsville, I am just another passionate fan.

The first thing I notice at the airport is that the sign that welcomes me to ‘Cowboy Country’ has three new faces on it; Michael Morgan, Jordan McLean, and Jason Taumalolo. The changing of the guard is now complete, as JT and Matt Scott step aside to let the new era begin.

On Friday 13th as I sat at on The Strand looking out to the idyllic calmness of the waters that surround Magnetic Island, I was anxiously awaiting news as to whether round one of the NRL would even go ahead. There had been so much hype surrounding round one. As always, it had felt like a long offseason and all Cowboys fans were especially excited to baptise our new home. The news came through in the afternoon that the game would proceed despite coronavirus concerns.

I have such fond memories of Dairy Farmers Stadium. There was such a great atmosphere within those walls and for 24 years she had gladly welcomed us in. So much history lives there and so many great Cowboys have laced their boots up for the very first time (and last time) in those sheds. I did wonder how we could ever re-capture those moments and feelings.

As I stepped through the gates of Queensland Country Bank Stadium, I quickly realised that it was not about keeping those old memories, it was about making new ones and while those old memories can never be lost, they live on with the players and the fans who will always tell the stories. There is no doubt our new stadium is the coming of age for the North Queensland Cowboys.

In our 25th year in the competition, we now have a home ground that all other teams should be envious of. I was both nostalgic and incredibly excited as I looked about and took in the absolute beauty of our new home ground. The people within these new walls are the same, their passion and love for the Cowboys remain and I could feel their emotion as they waved their flags and sung out as one. We were all feeling it, it was amazing. Watching thousands upon thousands of fans stream in across the bridge was simply incredible. Our army was assembling, and they will continue to do that for every home game for many years to come.

With all our old friends inside (and some new ones for the 2020 season) it quickly began to feel like home; a home that had undergone some mighty renovations. 

All the bells and whistles have been added and no expense had been spared. Its design is striking as you drive past from town. It is amazing to think something so big looks like it has always been there.

John Spencer, the founder of the SEQ Cowboys Muster fan base, reflected on the moment he walked into the new stadium, “When I walked across to QCBS as part of the stampede I had such a feeling of belonging, it was a humbling moment. Then I saw the stadium and she was stunning. It felt like home. A new magnificent, state of the art stadium for all of us, and in true North Queensland fashion, she has a corrugated roof!”

No matter where you sit in the stadium you have a bird-eye view. There is a huge screen and it is mostly covered, which bodes well for the wild and spectacular weather that North Queensland is known for. She is built tough with her corrugated roof which sums up perfectly the overall feeling of what this stadium is all about. Just like her patrons, she will endure both the good times and the rough times that come with being a North Queenslander, but her bones are strong, and she will not yield.

JT and Matt Scott christened the stadium with a trip down memory lane, reminiscing about the events that led them to their moment together on the new field. JT slotted a field goal, just as he had done back in 2015 to secure our first premiership and the crowd went wild. It was fantastic to be with so many of my Cowboys friends and re-live those moments again; it feels like only yesterday.

Fans also finally got their moment to stand as one and thank Matt Scott for his service to the club. It was a distressing time for all last year, and it was certainly a moment that supporters had been waiting for. Both Cowboys and Broncos fans were on their feet for the player affectionally known as ‘Thumper’, one of the best to ever wear our jersey, leaving shoes too big to fill and a bar of excellence much too high to reach.

It is always a special moment when I get to spend time in Townsville. So many of my favourite memories belong to this town. From being a little girl holidaying with my family and spending weeks with saltwater in my hair and sand in my toes on Maggie Island, to dinner at the Boardwalk, listening to island music playing softly in the background as I try to keep my eyes open after a long day spent playing in the sun. As an adult, my memories here continued with my first ever Cowboys game and meeting JT on The Strand just to name a new. 

I was born on the wrong side of the border and I feel most at home when I am in Townsville saying hello to other Cowboys supporters as I walk around town or taking it easy strolling along The Strand. It is a different way of life up here, Sydney has a hustle and bustle that I have never been comfortable with. I fit in when I am in Townsville, they are all Cowboys crazy just like me; the perfect sort of crazy that just happens to make you absolutely normal in the ‘Ville.