The Vodafone Warriors and North Queensland entered the premiership together in 1995 and they can’t be split after 22 seasons of competition, winning 18 games apiece and with just 11 points separating the clubs after 36 encounters.
Some of the Warriors’ finest Aussie imports have come directly from the Cowboys and the North Queensland region, while some of the their greatest servants went on to finish their careers in Townsville.
Overall: Played 36 – Vodafone Warriors won 18, North Queensland won 18; Vodafone Warriors scored 845 points, North Queensland scored 834 points.
Biggest wins: Vodafone Warriors – 52-6 at Mt Smart Stadium, 1996; North Queensland – 52-12 at Dairy Farmers Stadium, 2012.
Longest winning streaks: North Queensland – 5 games (2003-05); Vodafone Warriors – 3 games (twice – 1999-2000 and 2002-03).
Finals: Played 1 – North Queensland won 1.
Most appearances: Stacey Jones (Vodafone Warriors) – 20; Matt Bowen (North Queensland) – 19; Micheal Luck (North Queensland and Vodafone Warriors) – 19; Aaron Payne (North Queensland) – 17; Simon Mannering (Vodafone Warriors) – 16; Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland) – 16.
Most tries: Matt Bowen (North Queensland) – 10; Ashley Graham (North Queensland) – 10; Stacey Jones (Vodafone Warriors) – 8; Nigel Vagana (Vodafone Warriors) – 7.
Most points: Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland) – 126; Josh Hannay (North Queensland) – 78; Stacey Jones (Vodafone Warriors) – 66; Matt Bowen (North Queensland) – 47; Gene Ngamu (Vodafone Warriors) – 46.
1995-2002 – Warriors dominate battle of the ’95 entrants
The Auckland Warriors were the highest-profile of the four new clubs that entered the 1995 ARL premiership, while the North Queensland Cowboys were the least heralded of the quartet that also included the South Queensland Crushers and Western Reds – and early results between the teams reflected those statuses.
Veteran half Greg Alexander scored two tries as the Warriors cruised to a 28-10 win in their maiden visit to Townsville late in the ’95 season, with the Cowboys collecting the wooden spoon in their first campaign. A year later the Graham Lowe-coached Cowboys – fielding foundation Warriors Whetu Taewa and Willie Poching – were trounced 52-6 in Auckland as Gene Ngamu racked up 28 points from three tries and nine goals, a club record that still stands.
North Queensland snared a win over Auckland midway through the 1997 Super League season, 30-22 at home, but a heavy defeat away in the last round consigned the Cowboys to another last-place finish. Former All Black Marc Ellis scored three tries from fullback in the 50-22 demolition.
The demise of the Reds and Crushers meant the Warriors and Cowboys were the only ’95 entrant survivors as the code came back together under the NRL banner in 1998. A Nigel Vagana hat-trick and a double to Kevin Iro spearhead a 34-18 Warriors win in their only clash that year.
Honours were shared one game apiece in 1999, and it was Lee Oudenryn’s turn to join the Warriors’ hat-trick bandwagon in a 40-14 late-season win in Townsville – avenging a 24-0 rout at the hands of the Cowboys at home earlier in the year.
The Warriors won both games between the struggling teams in 2000, ultimately helping them finish one spot above the wooden spoon Cowboys. But despite reaching the finals for the first time in 2001, the Vodafone Warriors lost both of their encounters with the also-ran Cowboys.
A 20-point haul from Ivan Cleary led the Vodafone Warriors to a 50-20 away win over the Cowboys early in 2002, while Ali Lauitiiti bagged a double in a 34-6 mid-season success as the Auckland-based club powered to the minor premiership.
Beloved back rower Kevin Campion – the Vodafone Warriors’ first Origin rep – left the club after the 2002 grand final, taking up a deal with the Cowboys.
2003-08 – Vodafone Warriors lassoed by rising Cowboys
North Queensland’s belated charge to a maiden finals appearance in 2004 coincided with the Vodafone Warriors’ tumble from contender status after three straight years in the playoffs, and the Cowboys compounded those contrasting fortunes with five consecutive wins in the rivalry from 2003-05 – including the only back-to-back wins at Mt Smart in their history.
Queensland Origin centre Josh Hannay had a points-scoring picnic at the Vodafone Warriors’ expense, kicking 22 goals in those five encounters.
Home wins late in 2006 and early in 2007 saw the Vodafone Warriors halt the Cowboys’ momentum temporarily, before enduring a double dose of Townsville pain later in the latter season. The Cowboys eked out an 18-12 regular-season victory, before the top-four clubs met again in week two of the playoffs.
Semi-final, 2007 – Vodafone Warriors wilt in the Townsville heat
The Vodafone Warriors’ 2007 NRL premiership bid unravelled in a sweltering Townsville pressure cooker against a rampant North Queensland Cowboys outfit.
The semi-final was controversially scheduled for a 4pm kick-off, despite the searing September heat and the fact Cowboys home games are almost exclusively played at night – even in the middle of winter. A 31-0 second half run cemented an emphatic victory and a preliminary final berth for the Cowboys.
The Vodafone Warriors started strongly, with three-quarters Michael Crockett and Tony Martin crossing for tries inside the opening 16 minutes to provide the visitors with 12-6 lead. But they surprisingly turned down the option of a drinks break at the 20-minute mark and Cowboys hooker Aaron Payne set up a try for centre Ben Farrar soon afterwards to level the scores.
North Queensland captain and linchpin Johnathan Thurston landed a telling blow two minutes before halftime, putting winger Ty Williams over in the corner with a wonderful long ball.
The conditions began to take their toll on the Vodafone Warriors in the second half as the Cowboys ran away with the match by posting five further tries and holding their opponents scoreless.
There was little conjecture in the Vodafone Warriors’ dressing room about the turning point of the match: “The biggest play was probably that try on the stroke of halftime,” coach Ivan Cleary said. “The guys came in and looked a little down during the break.”
The Cowboys’ emphatic victory was tempered by a dangerous throw charge levelled at Thurston for a fourth-minute tackle he made on Vodafone Warriors back rower Wairangi Koopu, but the Dally M medallist was exonerated at the judiciary and allowed to take his place in the preliminary final against Manly a week later.
2008-14 – Respite for Vodafone Warriors as Cowboys fade
A Matt Bowen treble powered the Cowboys to a 48-20 drubbing of the Vodafone Warriors early in 2008, but the northerners would go on to miss the finals for three straight years. The Vodafone Warriors were top eight regulars and won six of their next nine games against the Cowboys.
The Vodafone Warriors ground out an 18-6 win in the final round of 2011 to leapfrog the Cowboys on the ladder into sixth spot. It would prove crucial in the context of the last season the McIntyre Finals System was used – both teams lost in week one, but while seventh-placed Cowboys were eliminated, the Vodafone Warriors got another bite at the cherry and went all the way to the grand final.
The Cowboys racked up their biggest-ever win over the Vodafone Warriors – who were in the midst of a late-season collapse – late in 2012, with Ashley Graham scoring three tries and Johnathan Thurston kicking eight goals in a 52-12 rout.
But the Vodafone Warriors pulled off twin upsets of the heavyweight Cowboys early in 2013 and 2014, the latter their first win in Townsville for 12 years. Glen Fisiiahi notched a double and Konrad Hurrell played a crucial role off the bench with a second-half try in a 20-16 nail-biter.
2015-16 – Cowboys ride high again
The Cowboys have won the three most recent encounters between the clubs.
North Queensland snatched a thrilling 28-24 win from a gallant Vodafone Warriors outfit at 1300SMILES Stadium in 2015. The visitors looked to ruin Johnathan Thurston’s 250th game for the Cowboys by racing out to a 12-0 lead inside 10 minutes, but the hosts found their groove to score the next two tries. The Vodafone Warriors restored their 12-point lead with tries either side of halftime to Solomone Kata and Manu Vatuvei, and were still 24-16 in front with 10 minutes to go. Cowboys hooker Jake Granville – who earlier scored his side’s first try – pulled the match out of the fire with two more tries from dummy-half, including the go-ahead four-pointer with less than two minutes on the clock.
With the injury-ravaged Vodafone Warriors limping towards the end of 2015, the Cowboys overcame an early 16-0 deficit to romp to a 50-16 victory at Mt Smart in their Round 24 clash. Kyle Feldt scorched over for a hat-trick and Coen Hess scored on debut for the eventual premiers.
Ata Hingano’s eye-catching debut was a rare bright spot for the Vodafone Warriors as they went down 34-6 to North Queensland late in the 2016 season, Feldt benefiting from the Cowboys’ dominance again with another two tries.
Played for both clubs
Whetu Taewa: A teenaged Kiwis tourist in 1989, nuggety Canterbury three-quarter Taewa played four Tests in the 1993 trip to Britain and France before becoming a foundation Auckland Warrior. Taewa had a key hand in the club’s first-ever try (scored by Phil Blake) and played 11 games in the top grade in 1995, before linking with Graham Lowe at North Queensland the following season and making 12 appearances. West Coast-born Taewa finished his professional career with stints at English clubs Sheffield and Hull KR.
Se’e Solomona: A foundation Auckland Warrior, Solomona played in the club’s inaugural match against Brisbane on March 10, 1995, the first of nine appearances that season. He moved to North Queensland in 1996, playing four times for the Cowboys. As well as representing the Kiwis in four Tests in 1993, Solomona appeared for Western Samoa at the 1995 Rugby League World Cup and had stints with Sheffield, Oldham and Widnes in England.
Willie Poching: A highly-rated former Junior Kiwi, dynamic back rower Poching played two first grade games for the fledgling Auckland Warriors in 1995, scoring one try. He linked with the Cowboys in ’96 and played 16 games, before embarking on stints with Hunter Mariners, St George, Wakefield Trinity and Leeds. Poching represented Western Samoa (1995) and Samoa (2000) at World Cups.
Tyran Smith: A tall, rangy back rower, Auckland-born Smith played eight Tests for the Kiwis between 1994 and 2000 and also represented Aotearoa Maori at the 2000 Rugby League World Cup. He played a total of 188 games for seven different NRL clubs from 1993-2005 beginning with South Sydney before appearing for Super League-aligned North Queensland (nine games) and Hunter (two games) in 1997. When the game came back together Smith spent 1998 with the Warriors (10 games) followed by stints with Balmain, Wests Tigers and Canberra. He is now a player agent.
Jason Death: A talented hooker/loose forward who played 57 games for Canberra, Death moved to North Queensland in 1996 and turned out in 45 first-grade games in three seasons. The combative and inventive forward proved one of the Warriors’ finest recruits in 55 games from 1999-2001, winning the club’s player of the year award in his first season and featuring in its first finals campaign in ’01 before finishing his career at Souths.
Lee Oudenryn: Wing speedster Lee Oudenryn shot to prominence as a Parramatta rookie in 1992, famously beating Great Britain superstar Martin Offiah in pre-match sprint race during the Lions’ tour Down Under. After 50 games for the Eels, Oudenryn spent 1996 with the Gold Coast Chargers, then embarked on a four-season stay with the Warriors that garnered 23 tries in 61 games. Oudenryn finished his career at North Queensland in 2001, making three NRL appearances.
David Myles: A backline utility best known as a centre or standoff, Myles began his NRL career with the Gold Coast Chargers in 1998 before playing 41 games for the burgeoning Vodafone Warriors from 2000-02, including their maiden finals appearance in 2001. Myles played 57 games and scored 18 tries for the Cowboys from 2003-05 and featured in the club’s first finals campaign in ’04, but missed their grand final charge the following season. After a stint in France, Myles finished his career with the Titans in 2007.
Kevin Campion: Former Gold Coast, St George and Adelaide journeyman Campion won premierships with the Broncos in 1998 and 2000, before joining the Vodafone Warriors. He was a key factor in the Vodafone Warriors’ rise to credibility, helping the club to its maiden finals series in 2001 and a landmark grand final appearance the following season – consequently becoming just the fourth player ever to play in deciders for three different clubs. The tough, versatile forward played four Origins for Queensland during his two-year stint in Auckland and finished his career with the Cowboys, playing a similar role in their rise from perennial also-rans to finalists in 39 appearances in 2003-04.
Sione Faumuina: Versatile and supremely skilled, Faumuina was a 19-year-old debutant for Canberra in 2001, before returning home to Auckland the following season. Predominantly a back-rower, he played two Tests at standoff against Australia and made 88 appearances for the Vodafone Warriors in five seasons, but off-field issues plagued his career, which wound down with stints at Hull, North Queensland and Castleford. Faumuina played 32 games for the Cowboys in 2007-08.
Nathan Fien: Mt Isa-born Fien represented the Queensland Origin side in 2001 during his five seasons with the Cowboys – which garnered 91 NRL appearances – before linking with the Vodafone Warriors in 2005. The half/hooker played 105 games for the Auckland club and made the first of 20 Test appearances for the Kiwis in 2006. After featuring in the Vodafone Warriors’ 2007-08 finals campaigns, Fien was released to St George Illawarra midway through ’09. The utility’s five-season, 80-game stay with the joint venture included a premiership ring as part of the Dragons’ 2010 grand final-winning side.
Paul Dezolt: A fringe hooker at the Cowboys, Dezolt played 30 NRL games in five seasons before linking with the Vodafone Warriors in 2004, where he made three first grade appearances.
George Gatis: Townsville-born hooker Gatis played 25 NRL games for the Cowboys from 2001-03 before falling out of the first-grade picture. He resurfaced with the Vodafone Warriors in 2006, scoring six tries in 39 games across two seasons that encompassed the club’s ’07 finals campaign. After a short-lived stint at Huddersfield in 2008, Gatis returned to North Queensland and played one game in the top grade.
Micheal Luck: Tireless back rower Luck remains one of the most valuable and popular Australian recruits in the Vodafone Warriors’ history. After 76 appearances for the Cowboys from 2001-05, the Gatton-born forward headed to Auckland and played 150 NRL games across seven seasons – eighth-most in the club’s history by the time he retired in 2012. Unlucky not to represent Queensland at Origin level, Luck won the club’s player of the year award in 2009, but after six seasons playing 20-plus games, his farewell campaign was hounded by injury.
Grant Rovelli: A Mackay product, clever half Rovelli earned his NRL chance with the Vodafone Warriors in 2006, playing 68 games in three seasons and featuring in the club’s 2007-08 finals campaigns. Rovelli returned to his native North Queensland and played 26 games for the Cowboys in 2009-10.
Brent Tate: The courageous Tate, who overcame multiple serious injuries to carve out an admirable and decorated career, played 114 games for the Broncos and featured in the club’s 2006 premiership triumph. He linked with the Vodafone Warriors in 2008 for three seasons, becoming just their third Australian Test player, before joining the Cowboys and enjoying a remarkable representative renaissance until yet another season-ending knee injury brought the curtain down on his career in 2014. The veteran of 26 Tests and 23 Origins played 48 NRL games for the Vodafone Warriors and 67 games for the Cowboys.
Jacob Lillyman: No-frills prop Lillyman made his NRL debut for the Cowboys in 2003 and broke into the Queensland Origin side in ’06 after just 19 first grade appearances. After 62 games for the Cowboys, Lillyman joined the Vodafone Warriors in 2009 and ended a three-year Origin absence in 2011 – the season he played an integral role in the clubs’ charge to the grand final. The super-reliable bookend has played 183 games for the Vodafone Warriors (seventh in club history) and extended his Origin tally to 14 matches.
Leeson Ah Mau: Otahuhu Leopards junior Ah Mau made two NRL appearances as a 19-year-old during the Vodafone Warriors’ 2009 campaign. He was signed by the Cowboys and played a further 33 games in 2010-11 but eventually found his niche at St George Illawarra. Ah Mau has played 112 games Dragons and has turned out for Samoa in 10 Tests after debuting in 2013.
Steve Rapira: The younger brother of Vodafone Warriors stalwart Sam, Steve Rapira played 26 games for the Cowboys in 2009-10 before linking with his sibling and playing 14 games for the Vodafone Warriors from 2011-13. Injuries hampered his stint in Auckland before he signed with Salford City.