The Warriors and Cowboys entered the premiership together in 1995 and have forged the tightest of rivalries in 25 seasons of competition, with honours split down the middle just after 40 encounters. Some of the Warriors’ finest Aussie imports have come directly from the Cowboys and the North Queensland region, while some of the Warriors’ greatest servants went on to finish their careers in Townsville.
Overall record: Played 40 – Warriors won 20, North Queensland won 20; Warriors scored 912 points, North Queensland scored 903 points,.
Biggest wins: 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); Warriors – 3 games (twice – 1999-2000 and 2002-03).
Finals: Played 1 – North Queensland won 1.
Most appearances: Stacey Jones (Warriors) – 20; Matt Bowen (North Queensland) – 19; Micheal Luck (North Queensland and Warriors) – 19; Simon Mannering (Warriors) – 19; Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland) – 18; Jacob Lillyman (North Queensland and Warriors) – 17; Aaron Payne (North Queensland) – 17;
Most tries: Matt Bowen (North Queensland) – 10; Kyle Feldt (Cowboys) – 9; Ashley Graham (North Queensland) – 10; Stacey Jones (Warriors) – 8; Nigel Vagana (Warriors) – 7.
Most points: Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland) – 134; Josh Hannay (North Queensland) – 78; Stacey Jones (Warriors) – 66; Shaun Johnson (Warriors) – 51; Matt Bowen (North Queensland) – 47; Gene Ngamu (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 Warriors 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 the Warriors’ 18-12 win in Townsville was marred by an ugly brawl that spilled over the sideline an injured a cheerleader.
Ali Lauiti’iti was sent off for a high tackle after just 10 minutes, setting the tone for a spiteful encounter. Cowboys duo Brett Boyd and Damien Smith, and the Warriors’ David Myles were suspended for a combined total of 11 weeks, while the clubs were slugged with $25,000 fines.
Despite reaching the finals for the first time in 2001, the Warriors lost both of their encounters with the also-ran Cowboys.
A 20-point haul from Ivan Cleary led the Warriors to a 50-20 away win over the Cowboys early in 2002, before Lauiti’iti 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 Warriors’ first Origin rep – left the club after the 2002 grand final, taking up a deal with the Cowboys.
2003-08 – Warriors lassoed by rising Cowboys
North Queensland’s belated charge to a maiden finals appearance in 2004 – with Campion and Myles playing key roles – coincided with the 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 pointscoring picnic at the Warriors’ expense, kicking 22 goals in those five encounters.
Home wins late in 2006 and early in 2007 saw the 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 and the top-four clubs met again in week two of the playoffs.
Semi-final, 2007 – Warriors wilt in the Townsville heat
The 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 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 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 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 Warriors backrower 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 Warriors as Cowboys fade
A Matt Bowen treble powered the Cowboys to a 48-20 drubbing of the Warriors early in 2008, but the northerners would go on to miss the finals for three straight years. The Warriors were top eight regulars and won six of their next nine games against the Cowboys.
The Warriors grinded 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 Warriors got another bite at the cherry and went all the way to the grand final.
The Warriors also snared a heart-stopping NYC Under-20s grand final win over the Cowboys in 2011. The Cowboys fought back from 14 points down with 10 minutes left to level the scores on fulltime, but Kyle Feldt missed a title-winning conversion after the siren. Jordan Meads snapped a golden point field goal to give the Warriors their second straight Under-20s premiership.
The Cowboys racked up their biggest-ever win over the Warriors – who were in the midst of a late-season collapse – in 2012, with Ashley Graham scoring three tries and Johnathan Thurston kicking eight goals in a 52-12 rout.
But the 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.
The eventual champion Cowboys upset the hot favourite Warriors in the semi-finals of the inaugural NRL Auckland Nines, avenging a pool game defeat with an 8-0 shutout that silenced the Eden Park crowd.
2015-16 – Cowboys ride high again
The Cowboys have won the four most recent encounters between the clubs.
Round 7, 2015 – Granville’s late double-strike sinks visiting Warriors
North Queensland snatched a thrilling 28-24 win from a gallant Warriors outfit at 1300SMILES Stadium. 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 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 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 Warriors as they went down 34-6 to North Queensland late in the 2016 season, Feldt benefitting from the Cowboys’ dominance again with another two tries.
The Warriors – despite missing linchpin Shaun Johnson – showed more fight during the back-end of 2017, holding their hosts to a 12-all halftime scoreline and staying in the contest until the final 30 seconds, when Javid Bowen ran the length to seal a 24-12 victory for the Cowboys.
The Warriors scored a grinding 22-12 win over the struggling Cowboys in a historic Mount Smart double-header in Round 5 this year (the Tigers edged the Storm in the other NRL encounter), with David Fusitu’a bagging a double and Ken Maumalo also crossing in front of a rapturous 25,600-strong crowd.
The victory extended the Warriors’ watershed start to the season to 5-0.
The @NZWarriors rise to the occasion, Shaun Johnson makes a mockery of Paul Kent, the 'Autumn of Ken' continues, 'Fus' chases history, Mannering's welcome return, and Benji + Ivan reminisce in this week's #SevenTackleSet. #WarriorNation #ThisWarriorsLife https://t.co/cU4Z9lTtcU
— This Warriors Life (@thiswarriorslyf) April 8, 2018
The Warriors claimed just their second win in their last 12 visits to Townsville – and chalked up two wins over the Cowboys in the same season for the first time since 2002 – with a gritty 23-16 victory in Round 15.
The undisputed highlight was Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s 75-metre solo try.
— NRL (@NRL) June 15, 2018
The Cowboys regained bragging rights in 2019, outlasting a disappointing Warriors outfit at Mt Smart 17-10 early in the season.
THEY PLAYED FOR BOTH CLUBS
Whetu Taewa: A teenaged Kiwis tourist in 1989, nuggetty Canterbury (NZ) 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.
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.
Se’e Solomona: A foundation Auckland Warrior, Solomona played in the club’s inaugural match against Brisbane in 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.
Tyran Smith: A rangy backrower, 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/lock 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 five-eighth, Myles began his NRL career with the Gold Coast Chargers in 1998 before playing 41 games for the burgeoning 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 Warriors. He was a key factor in the 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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
Paul Dezolt: A fringe hooker at the Cowboys, Dezolt played 30 NRL games in five seasons before linking with the Warriors in 2004, where he made three first grade appearances.
Micheal Luck: Tireless back-rower Luck remains one of the most valuable and popular Australian recruits in the 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. Luck returned to Townsville and is currently the Cowboys’ HR Manager.
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 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 finished up with 188 games for the Warriors (sixth in club history) and extended his Origin tally to 14 matches before joining Newcastle for the 2018 season.
Leeson Ah Mau: Otahuhu Leopards junior Ah Mau made two NRL appearances as a 19-year-old during the 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 had played 119 games for the Dragons by the end of 2017 and has turned out for Samoa in 16 Tests after debuting in 2013 and represented the Kiwis for the first time in 2018. He signed to return to the Warriors in 2019 and played 26 matches in a row, before a knee injury cut short his 2020 campaign.
Grant Rovelli: A Mackay product, clever half Rovelli earned his NRL chance with the Warriors in 2006, playing 68 games in three seasons and featuring in the club’s 2007-08. Rovelli returned to his native North Queensland and played 26 games for the Cowboys in 2009-10.
Steve Rapira: The younger brother of 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 Warriors from 2011-13. Injuries hampered his stint in Auckland before he signed with Salford City.
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 five-eighth against Australia and made 88 appearances for the 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.
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 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 Warriors and 67 games for the Cowboys.