Club superfan and Cowboys.com.au contributor Kate Cornish speaks to young outside back Michael Bell about growing up in Moranbah, moving to Townsville and his first full season in first grade.
Young Cowboy Michael Bell has Eminem at the top of his current playlist, says his NRL idol is Billy Slater and without hesitation says if he could have a coffee with anyone from the Cowboys, it would be club legend Johnathan Thurston.
“Definitely JT. He just knows so much about the game and it would be great to just have a chat. That would be unreal! He has actually popped up at training a bit this year doing a bit of goal kicking practice with the lads,” Bell said.
A proud Queenslander, Bell was raised in the small mining town of Moranbah, 193 kilometres inland of Mackay. It was in Moranbah where Bell would spend his days until he got an opportunity with the Cowboys at the end of 2017 through the Young Guns system.
At the age of five Bell wanted to sign up at this local rugby league club, but he was told he was too young so played a year of soccer instead. A year later Bell laced up the boots for the Moranbah Miners, where he played from under 6s to under 17s.
“I loved growing up in Moranbah. The community was really close and rugby league was a big thing for the town. I went through every grade from under 6s to A-grade. I played under the Mackay local league district, so we would play one week in Moranbah and one week in Mackay for our away games, and I was lucky enough to get picked up from there,” he said.
Interestingly, for a town with a population of just 8,500 people, Bell is not the first rugby league export from the district, with 2005 Grand Final pair Josh Hannay and Travis Norton both products of the Miners.
“They are two awesome rugby league players who have come from Moranbah, and Josh Hannay even played a bit of Origin. It is good to see that people from the country have had the opportunity to play NRL,” Bell said.
During the 2020 pre-season Bell had been working hard and managed to do enough to catch the eye of coaches just before the NRL Nines Perth team was leaving. The unassuming centre took a call from the Cowboys former coach, Paul Green. He said the conversation that was to follow is one he will never forget.
“I was meant to be playing in a trial match that weekend, so I thought it was odd that he was calling me because he had already named the team. Ben Hampton had been injured the previous week and was fifty-fifty to play, so when Greeny called me, I was stoked. I couldn’t believe it,” Bell said.
It turned out to be a very successful campaign with the Cowboys picking up their second Nines title. Bell featured heavily throughout the tournament, playing in four of the five games and was even on the field as the whistle blew in the final against St George Illawarra, where the Cowboys won 23-14. Bell said the experience made him hungry for more and the opportunity was not taken for granted.
“I was just happy to go down with the boys and hopefully get one game, but they kept me in there for a few more. I was on the field at the end when we won. It was awesome sharing that moment with the lads. Even though it wasn’t NRL, it definitely makes me want to train hard and push hard to be in that starting side,” he said.
Elevated to the Cowboys NRL squad at the start of the 2021 season, Bell eagerly awaits to make his NRL debut while plying his trade with the Mackay Cutters. While Cutters teammates Murray Taulagi, Emry Pere and Ben Condon have all played in the NRL, Bell knows that if he continues to work hard, his opportunity will come soon.
Bell said he is relishing the opportunity to train alongside some of the most experienced players in the competition, and while he wants to bring his own ability and skill to his position, he would be crazy not to watch and learn from the best.
“At training I try to watch people like Justin O’Neill and even young blokes that are playing in the centres like Connelly Lemuelu. I watch them at training and mimic what they do and try and learn as much as I can,” he said.
“A player like Justin O’Neill – he’s played at the highest level, rep footy, for his state and country. You watch and then pick apart their game to try and add it to yours.”
Without hesitation, Bell says his NRL idol and all-time favourite player to watch was the Queensland Origin fullback who changed the game, Billy Slater. The excitement in Bell’s voice was palpable as he retold the story of his 13-year-old self who ended up in the sheds after a game where Slater gave him his game day socks. They are a prized possession that Bell has kept to this day.
There is no doubt that in that moment, Bell was not only a rugby league fan for life, but a young kid with dreams of one day playing league at the highest level, just like his idol Billy Slater.
When he is not busy on the field, you can find Bell on the local golf course a few times a week. A keen golfer, it is a way for him to relax and recharge away from football. He loves the beach and getting away to Magnetic Island a few times a year, enjoying the sights of the island on a scooter. Since moving to Townsville at the end of 2017, Bell has certainly enjoyed calling Townsville home.
There is no shortage of young stars waiting in the wings for their NRL opportunity up in Cowboys country, and Michael Bell is one of those exciting young players. Already an NRL Nines winner, Bell is ready to learn and eager to finesse the skills that will hopefully one day see him debut in a Cowboys jersey.