Written by Joshua Dean
Established in 1995, the North Queensland Cowboys have made three grand finals and won a premiership throughout their 26 year history.
The club has had some great success as well as disappointment, however this all-time side is quite impressive considering they have only been around for such a short time.
1. Matthew Bowen (2001-2013) 270 appearances
A freak of nature, Matty Bowen is undoubtedly the Cowboys greatest ever fullback. With 130 tries, he is the club’s all time top try scorer by a considerable amount. Bowen was special because even though he was small in stature, his skills in transition especially were off the charts. He was unlucky to play in the Billy Slater era, otherwise he would have played a lot more for Australia and Queensland. Bowen is a Cowboys legend and is an obvious selection for the number one jersey.
2. Kyle Feldt (2013-present) 146 appearances
In only 146 matches for the club, Kyle Feldt has been obsessed with scoring tries, having scored 98 already. Of course, he also scored the most famous try of the club’s history, in the 2015 Grand Final, where he narrowly avoided touch to score in the last minute. Feldt has great skill under the high ball, where he made a living off scoring tries from Jonathan Thurston’s kicks early on in his career. He may not be the fastest or the strongest, but he scores tries for fun, making him a must pick in this side.
3. Paul Bowman (1995-2007) 203 appearances
You know you have made a lasting impact at a club when their player of the year award is named after you. Paul Bowman was a foundation player at the Cowboys in 1995 and remained a consistent starter all the way to 2007. He was there for their struggles, as well as one of their best moments in 2005, where they made the Grand Final. In a couple seasons Bowman was in double digits for tries scored and was rewarded with 12 Queensland appearances at centre. Most of his club career was at centre, however he also spent time on the wing, five-eighth, second-row and lock.
4. Brent Tate (2011-2014) 67 appearances
Selecting who would play in the other centre position was slightly harder. Although he only played four seasons at the club, Brent Tate was highly influential. Tate joined North Queensland in 2011 when the Cowboys had not made the finals since 2007. During his tenure they made the top eight every season and he was one of the best centres in the competition. Tate was a true winner, meaning that he had to be picked here over others who may have played longer for the club but did not achieve as much as he did in such a short time.
5. Matt Sing (2002-2006) 104 appearances
Matt Sing’s time at the North Queensland Cowboys was short but with tires aplenty. In only 104 matches for the club, Sing scored 73 tries, one being a try in their Grand Final loss in 2005. In his five seasons at the club, he scored 13+ tries in four of them. Sing really turned his career around at the Cowboys, as well as him playing a big role in changing the club’s fortunes too. He is a highly underrated player, with many not understanding how good he was in his time at the Cowboys.
6. Michael Morgan (2010-2021) 168 appearances
A match winner throughout his time at the club, Michael Morgan had a stretch where he was the most electrifying half in rugby league. His best moment of course was in the dying stages of the 2015 Grand Final where he created something out of nothing to tie the game up in the 79th minute. From 2014-2017, Morgan won a Grand Final as well as virtually putting a mediocre side on his back to make a Grand Final, scoring nine tries or more in each of those seasons. He was so entertaining to watch which made it even more heart-breaking to see him have to medically retire.
7. Jonathan Thurston (2005-2018) 294 appearances
After winning the 2004 NRL Grand Final with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs coming off the bench, Jonathan Thurston made the move to Townsville and went on to become the greatest Cowboy of all time. A future immortal, Thurston achieved everything in North Queensland. Whether it be the four Dally M medals, the three golden boot awards or the Clive Churchill Medal in the 2015 Grand Final win, JT did it all.
8. Matthew Scott (2004-2019) 268 appearances
Matt Scott will always be known as one of the best props of his era. His hard work and toughness were obvious to see at the Cowboys, as well as for Australia and Queensland. He was awarded the North Queensland Cowboys Player of the Year on two occasions, as well as Dally M Prop of the Year in 2011. Scott’s consistency and longevity was essential to the club’s success, as well as his leadership. He co-captained the side to their first and only premiership, making him a legend of the club.
9. Aaron Payne (2002-2012) 219 appearances
The ‘glue’ that held the North Queensland Cowboys together in the late 2000’s, Aaron Payne was highly underrated due to being behind stars like Bowen, Thurston and Scott. In a time where the club was struggling, Payne won the Paul Bowman Medal twice in 2006 and 2008. He was a player you could always depend on to play well and is another example of being unlucky to be in the Cameron Smith era, otherwise he may have played rep football for Queensland. His longevity in this role meant the number nine jersey could only be Aaron Payne’s in this side.
10. James Tamou (2009-2016) 170 appearances
Possibly a surprising selection, James Tamou was one of the in-form props of the competition for several seasons during his time at the Cowboys, playing for NSW as well as Australia in that time. Tamou was a highly durable player, consistently playing 20+ matches each season in his time at the club. Looking at the Cowboys currently, they are missing a player like James Tamou in their side and it will always be a major mistake of the club not re-signing him.
11. Gavin Cooper (2006, 2011-2020) 247 appearances
Possibly one of the most underrated players of the NRL era, Gavin Cooper never shined, but never disappointed at the club. He was so dependable and was a great servant to the Cowboys as well as the game of rugby league. He was a part of the 2015 Grand Final win, as well as captain of two Auckland Nines title winning sides. He did play for Queensland six times, however got snubbed from them as well as Australia on several occasions. Cooper is a club icon and it was gutting to see him medically retire last season. His legacy will be as an underrated, hard working second rower who gave his all for the club.
12. Luke O’Donnell (2004-2010) 117 appearances
O’Donnell made an immediate impact when joining the Cowboys from the Wests Tigers in 2004, where he was part of the first side from the club to make the Preliminary Final and then in 2005 they made the Grand Final. He is known as the one of the game’s hardest workers, however he did have a competitive streak and poor discipline. When he was on the field though, he was vital to the club’s success. At his time at North Queensland, he earned many caps in representative football for both Australia and New South Wales. He never was the guy to score the most tries, however he was the guy to always play 80 minutes and be the hardest worker on the park.
13. Jason Taumalolo (2010-present) 204 appearances
Undoubtedly the most explosive forward in our game, Jason Taumalolo has made a living making mind blowing metres for North Queensland. He is a freak of nature, built like a truck with an incredible amount of speed for someone so big. Taumalolo already is one of the greatest metre makers of all time and is probably the club’s best ever forward. He obviously won the Dally M Medal in 2016, as well as Dally M Lock of the Year three times. Possibly his greatest achievement is winning the Cowboys Player of the Year award five consecutive years in a row and counting. He played a major role in both Grand Finals teams in the 2010’s, which means slotting him in at lock is essential.
14. Jake Granville (2015-2021) 148 appearances
The utility position was a tough one, because there have been some great utility options the club has had over the years. John Asiata and Rory Kostjasyn both spring to mind for their great work off the bench for the side, however one player really stood out as a perfect selection. At the moment Jake Granville is not in the best of form, however at his best through 2015-2018 he was incredible. He was, and is still so smart out of dummy half, that he creates many gaps in opposition defences. Many suggest he actually deserved the Clive Churchill Medal in the 2015 Grand Final win, because he was superb that night. Be that as it may, Granville was one of the best hookers in the world in his prime, making him perfect for the utility spot here.
15. Scott Bolton (2007-2019) 246 appearances
When selecting this side, it is obvious to see how many great underrated, hard-working forwards the Cowboys have produced over the years. The home-grown Scott Bolton may be the most important of them, because he was loyal and was so dependable for over a decade. One of the most incredible things about his career was that he played 132 first grade games from the interchange, which is very impressive. Many players would leave clubs seeking a starting spot, however Bolton knew his role and played it to a tee. He may not be the most entertaining player to watch, however he was definitely one of the toughest. A great one club man, Bolton had to be in this side, due to his longevity and expertise playing off the bench for much of his career.
16. Paul Rauhihi (2003-2005) 72 appearances
Paul Rauhihi emerged as a true leader when he signed with the club in 2003. He was at the club for only three seasons, but in that time they made both the Preliminary and Grand Finals. The first year he joined he won Club Player of the Year and then won Dally M Prop of the Year in 2004. He added so much strike power to the forward pack of the Cowboys as well as great leadership, becoming captain when either Paul Bowman or Travis Norton were injured. The way he played at club level earned him a Kiwis jersey and he even captained them once. Rauhihi was there for the club’s first great era and was a vital part of it, meaning that he slotted in nicely on the interchange. If he had played a couple more seasons, he may have started ahead of Tamou, but longevity prevails.
17. Carl Webb (2005-2010) 115 appearances
Another solid forward, Carl Webb had his prime years of his career at the Cowboys. Even though he did miss a lot of games due to injuries and suspensions, he was too beneficial when he was on the field to not pick him in this side. He is a great option on the bench, mostly because of his experience in multiple positions like prop and second row. Although he missed the 2005 Grand Final due to suspension, he did feature for Queensland as well as one game for Australia when he was at the North Queensland Cowboys. A hard-nosed forward and great player to have on the bench.
Coach – Paul Green (2014-2020) 167 matches
This coaching selection is another fairly easy decision. Paul Green was at the helm when the club won their first and only premiership, as well as their grand final in 2017. He was there for the club’s best era and it shows with him having the best win ratio with 52%, even though he has coached the most matches. Paul Green will always be remembered for that 2015 Grand Final, however, the North Queensland Cowboys made the finals four out of seven times, an impressive feat for the club. Green is a legend of the club and it was sad to see how it ended, but he will always be remembered for what he achieved.
Honourable mentions: John Buttigieg, Josh Hannay, Nathan Fien, Ty Williams and Shane Tronc