We caught up with former North Queensland Toyota Cowboys forward Mark Shipway to talk about his time in NQ, playing in England and what he's up to now.
Shipway, 45, played 91 games for the Cowboys between 1997-2001, before spending time with the Northern Eagles, Manly Sea Eagles and Salford City Reds.
1) You played all of your junior footy on the Mid North Coast. How old were you when you started playing and what made you get involved in the sport?
I was born in Wollongong before moving to Coffs Harbour when I was about one or two. I started playing junior footy for the Sawtell Panthers when I was seven right up until the under 18s. I then moved up to Redcliffe and had a couple of years there before I got picked up by the Cowboys. Football was just something I always wanted to do. From as young as I can remember it was always my dream to play in the ARL.
2) How did you come about signing with the Cowboys?
I had been playing for the Redcliffe Dolphins in the Queensland Cup when Tim Sheens and Murray Hurst saw me in 1996. They scouted me in that finals series and they ended up getting me up to the Cowboys from there. My partner Jodie and I made the move up north ahead of the 1997 pre-season.
3) You made your first-grade debut as a 20-year-old in Round 2, 1997. How did you find out you’d be making your NRL debut and what do you remember about that game?
I had shoulder surgery after the grand final in 1996. In my head, I was thinking I'd push for a first-grade spot halfway through the season once I'd gotten back up to speed but Tim Sheens came up to me and told me he was going to give me a start in the centres which was a shock at the time. It was against the Western Reds in Townsville. I remember we kicked off and I was pretty keen to get down there so I sprinted down and then had Rodney Howe coming flying back the other way right at me.
4) Looking back on your 91 games with North Queensland, what are some of your fondest memories?
Certainly not the pre-season heat, but I still enjoyed the process, strangely. Some of the fondest memories are of the mateship we enjoyed and also the passionate supporters. It was such a good feeling around training with such a great bunch of guys. Even all these years on, I'm still great mates with a lot of the boys that I played with at the Cowboys.
5) After two years with the Northern Eagles / Manly Sea Eagles, you spent two seasons with Salford in the Super League. What was that experience like?
Salford had just been promoted to the Super League when I got there. As far as experiences go, it was outstanding. Driving to training and seeing snow and frost in pre-season was a stark contrast to the Northern Beaches and North Queensland. While we did get to travel a fair bit, on the footy field, it was a bit of a tough grind. With their teams' promotion and relegation, it's essentially like a Q-Cup team being promoted to the NRL. We could compete with half of the competition, but the top half of the competition was NRL level football. We were welcomed well by the English guys though and there was a couple of other Australian and New Zealand guys over there which became its own little family.
6) Away from football, what else are you doing with your life now?
I'm a sales rep for Asahi, dealing with the non-alcohol side of things. I have coached Redcliffe's reserve grade to premierships, Queensland Rangers teams to wins over NSW and been an assistant coach at Q-Cup level also. At the moment I am coaching Mason's Under 8s team after some years helping with the eldest boy Frazer's team. I am really enjoying being part of their journey.