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Commitment to development on show during bumper weekend

The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys continue to create pathways for local junior talent, showcased by four levels of the club’s rugby league product on display at the last home game.

From the outside, game day on Saturday 2 April offered up a football feast for Cowboys members and fans – a blockbuster NRL clash, preceded by the North Queensland Toyota Gold Stars, Laurie Spina Shield action and a Cowboys Academy showcase on the Hutchinson Builders Centre community training field.

But from the inside there was a sense of serendipity for Football Programs Manager Glenn Hall, who admits everything just came together for four levels of the club’s development pathways, from U11 through to first grade, to all play in one location on one day.

“It’s kind of funny how it all fell into place,” the former Cowboy said.

“Laurie Spina Shield is usually positioned a little bit further down the track on the calendar, but game development officers Liam (Bartlett) and Jack (Robotham) have to wait until the draw comes out from the NRL to see where it sits.


“The Greenhorns (Cowboys Academy) muster was scheduled in before the draw and it was just lucky how it all fell together, as chaotic as it was with everyone running around to set it up.

“The different levels and the different meanings for people was awesome.

We had young girls playing Laurie Spina Shield who got to see the Gold Stars play, then it was an eye-opener for our young academy kids to play and taste the professionalism of what it takes before first grade, and then we were all just consumed with the excitement of those young Laurie Spina kids on the big stage.

“The Cowboys were created to give North Queensland kids a pathway without having to move away so it was fantastic being able to showcase the many different levels and avenues for young kids to either watch football or see a pathway on the one day.”

NRL nursery

With the Cowboys Academy strategically structured to provide a best practice system based on acquiring all the attributes required to play in the NRL, the game held at the Hutchinson Builders Centre before gates opened to the main game was a culmination of the months of training over summer.

The match demonstrated the importance of the new facilities to the club, with the young players experiencing a new level of professionalism and the training field put to use with a packed schedule at the stadium next door.

The game brought together players from academy locations in Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and Rockhampton to upskill rugby league players in North Queensland and identify top talent for recruitment, investing in North Queensland rugby league as a whole.

Nurturing grassroots

While the first-of-its-kind academy game was taking place – with players split into Northern and Southern representatives – there was a palpable excitement growing amongst eight U11 teams, who were chosen to play on Queensland Country Bank Stadium after being judged the carnival’s best and fairest.

It was the first time since 2019 that the tradition returned as part of the carnival, and the first time taking place on Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

With current first grade players including Tom Dearden, Mitch Dunn, Reuben Cotter and Kyle Feldt themselves alumni of the Laurie Spina Shield carnival, it provided junior grassroots players a chance to share the field with their heroes while identifying the carnival as a pathway to the elite stage.

Big stage rehearsal

It also added significance to the Gold Stars curtain raiser to have a number of junior female players in the Laurie Spina Shield.

“Learning to play in front of people and in packed stadiums is a big part of the growth of women’s rugby league,” Glenn said.

“Sometimes it’s daunting, and these current Gold Stars girls probably haven’t had as much consistency and time in rugby league like their male counterparts, in that they’ve played fewer seasons at a higher level before being thrown straight into that.

“Providing that experience is key to helping the women’s game grow.

“Being able to perform with all those distractions is hard to deal with so it’s good for the Gold Stars to do it, but it’s also good for young girls to see that and aspire to it from as early as what the boys are.”

The North Queensland Toyota Gold Stars return to Queensland Country Bank Stadium on Saturday 23 April for their Round 4 BMD Premiership clash with the Burleigh Bears.

Acknowledgement of Country

North Queensland Cowboys respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.