Back In The Frame
|Last 10 Years||16||7||9||0||292 (Avg 18 ppg)||379 (Avg 24 ppg)||44%|
Rugby league in northern Queensland has a rich and colourful history, being established in Townsville as early as 1914. A fierce rivalry developed between towns competing for the famous Foley Shield. The final, played in Townsville, became a showpiece for the region, with scouts from Brisbane and Sydney regularly attending in search of local talent. By the 1980s, North Queensland representative teams played in the Queensland State League and a push for inclusion in the New South Wales Rugby League began in 1989.
This culminated in the November 1992 announcement that the North Queensland Cowboys had been accepted into the expanded Australian Rugby League competition for 1995.
Souths had little trouble with the Cowboys for the first few years. In fact, nobody had too much trouble with them. During their first five years, they won only 26 games and never finished above 16th, except in 1997 when they finished 10th (out of 10) in Super League. We won 30-16 the first time we played them, at the Sydney football Stadium in 1995. We also beat them in 1996 and 1998, both times in Townsville.
In 1999, however, there was more than a touch of feeling in the clash, again at Townsville. Throughout 1999, the Rabbitohs played under the constant threat of being eliminated from the NRL at the end of the year. There was a lot of animosity, particularly amongst fans, towards the ex-Super League clubs which never seemed in any danger whatsoever. As Souths fought tooth-and-nail for every scrap of sponsorship and funding, North Queensland was underwritten by News Limited, and didn't have to worry about the great cull.
By the time Souths made the trek to Townsville in round 13 we were in equal sixth spot, with the Cowboys struggling in 16th place. Adding to the emotion of this game was the fallout from an incident the previous week, when Souths had hammered Newcastle 27-4 at the Sydney Football Stadium. Knights prop David Lomax had been completely pole-axed by Mark "Spud" Carroll in the very first tackle of the match, taken from the field on the medicab and not seen again. Lomax's brother John played for the Cowboys and stated publicly that he was out for revenge. Well, Spud was up for it. Souths kicked off straight to Lomax and he was smashed by a trio of Rabbitohs (including Carroll), taken from the field on the medicab and not seen again. For the second week in a row, a Lomax had lasted just one tackle against the Souths pack.
And for the second week in a row the Rabbitoh forwards, courtesy of Carroll, established immediate superiority and proceeded to dominate the match. Souths led 14-0 with just 15 minutes to go, yet still managed to give fans a nail-biting finish, conceding two late tries but running out 14-12 winners.
Still, despite having never beaten Souths, it was the Cowboys who were retained in the competition for 2000, while we were kicked out. They continued to struggle during our exclusion, but have gradually become stronger since 2002, our first year back in the NRL. They beat us twice that year, including a tragic loss in the last game of the season, when we led 34-16 yet somehow managed to concede four tries - the last one with just a minute to go - and lose 36-34. No doubt our worst loss to North Queensland, though, came in Townsville in round 24 the following year. We'd already clinched the wooden spoon, and on this night the Cowboys absolutely ran riot, scoring 10 tries in a 60-8 thrashing. It was a very long trip home from the far north.
After that, things certainly improved for a long while, although the last few years haven't been so good.
In 2004, we managed a 20-all draw at Central Coast Stadium in the first golden point match to go the full extra 10 minutes without any addition to the scoreboard.
Then, in 2005 at Townsville in round 19, we took on a Cowboys team that was running equal third and on the way to their first ever Grand Final. In a match where our forward pack led the way, we came from behind twice, eventually emerging with a cracking 16-14 victory. Captain Ashley Harrison led from the front, making 31 tackles and 11 hit-ups while Peter Cusack was huge in the middle of the park, making 32 tackles and 19 hit-ups. Luke Stuart, John Sutton and Harrison scored tries and a Brad Watts penalty goal just four minutes from the end secured victory.
They got us back just six weeks later, but not without some controversy. A week after our magnificent blood and guts win over the Roosters, the Cowboys ambushed us on the Central Coast, scoring in the first minute and opening up an 18-6 lead by halftime on the way to a 30-16 victory. What was remarkable about this game, though, was North Queensland's discipline. They were perfect. Yes, in front of a parochial Rabbitohs crowd buoyed by five wins from the previous six matches, the Cowboys didn't concede a single penalty. Souths fans cursed referee Shayne Hayne all the way home.
In 2006, the Cowboys won both games, although the 16-14 victory at Townsville was again tinged with controversy. This time the Cowboys got off to a bad start with the referee, conceding two penalties in the first five minutes, but then reverted to their perfect game from the year before. Not another penalty came our way for the rest of the night. Nevertheless, we battled on bravely and led three times in the match before having it snatched at the death.
However, the tide really turned in 2007, and continued to run our way for six years. After we started the '07 season in sensational style with three straight wins, the euphoria faded a bit when we lost the next two. Round six was against the Cowboys in Townsville and we really aimed up, coming from 6-0 down just before halftime to win 10-6, Shannon Hegarty and Nathan Merritt scoring tries. It was our defence in the final 20 minutes that really impressed. With superstars Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen throwing everything they had at the Rabbitohs, our line held firm and a fine, fighting victory was achieved.
Three months later, our 2007 season was somewhat in the balance when we next faced North Queensland in round 19. A loss would have meant losing touch with the top eight, but once again we managed to take the points. Rookie half Eddie Paea scored a lovely individual try in the first half, but we were trailing 10-8 after 56 minutes when Issac Luke burrowed through three tackles to put us in the lead. When Ben Rogers hurtled onto a David Fa'alogo ball four minutes later and ran 40 metres to score, the Rabbitohs were in front 18-10 and, despite a late Cowboys try, we held on to win 20-14.
In 2008 we only won eight matches all season, but two of them came against the Cowboys. The first was a close 28-24 victory in Sydney, but the second proved to be one of our best victories in the last decade. With Souths floundering in 15th position, and the Cowboys dead last, it was a must-win affair for both sides.
The Rabbitohs arrived in Townsville on a windy night and, despite Souths dominating possession early on, the Cowboys took the lead through a dubious put down from prop Ray Cashmere after just five minutes. North Queensland scored again five minutes later to make it 12-0 and then winger Fetuli Talanoa had a chance to get us on the board but he had his eyes on the line and the ball bounced into touch. It looked like a very long night was in store for the Rabbitohs.
Despite inspirational captain Roy Asotasi bursting through the Cowboys' line and running 50 metres to score on the half hour, the Cowboys continued in the ascendancy and nearly went over again just a few minutes before halftime. Luckily a double movement call from the referee kept the score 12-4 at the break.
When the Cowboys came out swinging after halftime, laying on three tries in eight minutes to give them a 28-4 lead with less than half an hour to go, even the staunchest of Souths supporters would have written off a victory. However, the Rugby League gods must have been smiling on us that night.
Talanoa made up for his previous blunder by touching down in the corner and, with Issac Luke converting, the deficit closed to three converted tries. From the kick-off Souths exploded, with David Fa'alogo sending Craig Wing on his way to the line for his first try since returning from that shoulder injury sustained in the season opener against the Roosters.
Soon afterwards the Cowboys kicked out on the full in general play, giving us a prime opportunity to score again. This time Beau Champion weaved through the defence to score and Luke kicked his third conversion in a row to narrow the scores to 28-22. With a quarter of the match still to play the Rabbitohs had all the momentum, and anything seemed possible. Whatever the Cowboys could do, we could do better.
The Souths forwards, by now in complete control, rumbled down the field, once again establishing a platform for attack. When custodian Luke Capewell strolled over in the right hand corner and Issac Luke smashed over yet another sideline conversion the scores were, unbelievably, tied at 28-all after 75 minutes.
To say it was "Game On" was an understatement. And there were still a few heart stoppers left in this roller-coaster of a match.
With Souths fans screaming their lungs out, the mercurial Chris Sandow managed to pilot a field goal over and all of a sudden we were up 29-28.
But still it wasn't over and the drama continued as Sandow turned from hero to villain, dropping the ball from the kick-off. With seven seconds left, it looked like the Cowboys Anthony Watts had butchered a chance to kick a field goal from the scrum, but the referee awarded an offside penalty against Souths.
Unable to kick a goal from the differential penalty, the Cowboys looked to Watts once more for a field goal to take them into Golden Point, but the Red and Green wall charged the ball down, sealing our most famous victory against North Queensland and completing the second biggest comeback in the history of Australian Rugby League. What a night!
A 46-12 loss in 2009 was the only hiccup in a nine game run against the Cowboys that featured eight victories for the Rabbitohs. The pendulum was swinging in our favour against our opponents from the north, and it would continue to swing when we needed it most.
In Round 24 2011 we faced a Cowboys side in a must win clash at ANZ Stadium. A late season form streak saw us heading into the back end of the year with a real chance of a finals berth. And it was the high flying North Queensland outfit, in fourth place, who stood in our way. That season was notorious for a terrible run of injuries and this night was no exception with Greg Inglis failing to pass a concussion test during the week and Nathan Merritt pulling out of the side at the last minute with a quad injury.
Nevertheless, Souths capitalised on the wet weather that night as eighteen-year-old James Roberts, Merritt's replacement, hoisted a bomb towards the line. Cowboys winger Ashley Graham leapt for the catch but dropped it cold, the ball landing perfectly in the arms of John Sutton to score. Johnathan Thurston got the visitors on the board with a try of his own, but soon afterwards we regained the lead through another bomb and another dropped ball, the four-pointer this time going to second-rower Eddy Pettybourne.
North Queensland scored again to level 12-all at halftime, and then scored two tries and kicked a penalty goal in the second half to lead 24-12 with just ten minutes left for Souths to save their season.
James Roberts once again rose to the occasion, slicing through the Cowboys' defence from a set play to close the gap to six. With less than five minutes to go in the match, the Cowboys roared onto the attack and looked likely to seal the win when halfback Chris Sandow intercepted a Johnathan Thurston pass. With the Rabbitohs faithful in raptures Sandow brushed off fullback Matt Bowen and set sail for the line, being caught just 20 metres short. The defence was at sixes and sevens and Souths moved the ball quickly to the left with winger Chris McQueen touching down in the corner. Sandow was again the man of the moment, landing a sideline conversion to send the game into golden point.
The stakes could hardly have been higher as extra time got underway, and Souths fans held their breath as a Matt Bowen field goal attempt struck the upright and bounced back. When the Rabbitohs got their turn to attack, hooker Issac Luke came out of a questionable tackle lying on the ANZ Stadium turf. Play stopped and the video replay showed that he had copped a swinging arm across the chin from his opposite James Segeyaro. The referee blew his whistle and Sandow calmly landed the penalty goal from 20 metres out to seal the match 26-24, keeping our top eight hopes alive.
Souths won the next two matches against North Queensland 20-16 and 28-10, but from there things turned decidedly sour. We lost the next four encounters, and they even beat us twice in our Premiership year of 2014.
Come Round 23 2015, we were striving to be the first side in over two decades to take out back-to-back premierships and travelled to Townsville to take on the in-form Cowboys, who were by then competition favourites. Both Clubs were in the top four, and with Indigenous superstars Greg Inglis and Johnathan Thurston facing off as captains, this match was bound to be a blockbuster.
'GI' took it upon himself to make a big statement early on, scoring a trademark try by dummying with the ball in one hand and barrelling over the line just two minutes into the contest. The Cowboys struck back through some slick hands with Justin O'Neill scoring after fifteen minutes, and with John Sutton going off the field, the signs didn't look good.
Souths took the lead again when hulking English front rower Tom Burgess came off the bench, brushing his way past defenders and plunging over next to the posts. With the clock winding down to half time, Adam Reynolds kicked a field goal for a 13-6 lead, but then North Queensland struck back again through Lachlan Coote from an erratic run of play, closing the deficit to just one point at the break.
In the second half though, Souths showed just why they were the Premiers as fan-favourite Jason Clark went over ten minutes in and, in the 60th minute, Alex Johnston conjured up a freakish try as he got to an Adam Reynolds bomb, kicked it ahead and regathered to score.
Souths fans' hearts were in their mouths when Inglis had to be taken from the field after a nasty collision, but the men on the field laid all their worries to rest just a few minutes later, when Johnston made a clean bust up the middle and sent centre Dylan Walker over for the match sealing try. The Cowboys scored in the dying minutes, but it was a South Sydney masterclass as the Rabbitohs triumphed 31-12 in our first win in Townsville since that 2008 thriller.
Sadly though, that was our last win of 2015, and also our last win against the Cowboys.
Since 2013 the Rabbitohs have spread the gospel of South Sydney by taking a home game each year to Barlow Park in Cairns, with resounding success. However, after hosting a number of other clubs like the Gold Coast Titans and Canberra Raiders, the NRL decided that all subsequent matches that Souths held at the venue had to be played against the Cowboys! It doesn't seem right that we don't get a say in who we play there in our own home game, but that's the way it is.
In 2016 and 2017 we took the Cowboys on in Cairns and both times they took advantage, winning 20-0 and 23-10 respectively. To add insult to injury, they've also beaten us twice in Townsville during that period, so that glorious victory in 2015 is now the only match we've won in our last nine encounters.
In some ways there is not much similarity between Souths and the Cowboys - them being a former Super League club, until recently owned by News Limited, and us battling for survival for years. Yet, in terms of our development as a football team, there are plenty of parallels. On the field, they really struggled for credibility for a long time, just like we did. In 2004 they emerged from the shadows to go within a whisker of making the grand final and, a year later, actually made it to the big one.
When we finally tasted the joy of our long-awaited 21st Premiership in 2014, they managed to do the same (except it was their first Premiership) the following year. And, although they are struggling a little in 2018, for a long time now they have been a force to be reckoned with.
In fact, both Clubs are now rightfully seen as real contenders in the NRL. The Cowboys established a culture of success over a number of years and we have now done the same.
However, with just one win from the past nine games against them, it's time to swing the pendulum back our way. We have to get right back in the frame, and we have to do it now.
It's time to show them once again, just like Mark Carroll showed John Lomax in 1999, that, despite what they might think or say, we know exactly where we, and they, sit in the Rugby League pecking order.