It is practically impossible to read, watch or listen to the news without hearing something about the North Queensland Cowboys and their sudden rise to be one of the top teams in the NRL. Clich?s and catchphrases like ?feel good story of the year? and ?surprise packet? have been dusted off and brought out.
The frenzy surrounding the Cowboys often feels it needs to mention certain facts that any league fan who has access to Fox Sports already knows, and the simple reason for this is that the media coverage has been largely absent in the 10-year history of the Townsville-based franchise. Sure, we all heard bits here and there about how they were going when they were on a winning streak, but those in the Sydney media in particular were almost deathly silent on the subject of the Cowboys the rest of the time.
But perhaps the most damning fact of all in this media blackout has been the situation with the free-to-air broadcaster of rugby league, Channel Nine. It will not be news to anyone that Nine broadcast two club games a week, except for weeks of tests and City-Country games. The Cowboys have been in existence since 1995, and their very first match was broadcast to the rugby league-watching nation. Since that day, Nine has broadcast roughly 520 regular season matches. In those 520, the Cowboys figured just once more, and that was in round 25, 2004.
Now, the Cowboys have qualified for their first finals series and all of a sudden Nine want to know all about them. In fact, their presentation of them is as though they have done the world a favour by uncovering this wonderful team from Townsville with these great players that, in the words of Ken Sutcliffe himself, ?nobody knew their names.? We should be eternally thankful for the great service Nine have done us.
This shouldn?t really come as a surprise to anyone. The media are only ever interested in selling papers, advertising space and so on, and generally all news revolves around the major cities Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane anyway. One of the funniest things this year was the Daily Telegraph whingeing and moaning about how the Sydney Swans were never given recognition or coverage outside of Sydney, yet they themselves are guilty of doing the same thing to non-Sydney based rugby league teams. Hypocritical? Yes. But also very typical.
Despite all this, nothing can take away the fact that the Cowboys really do deserve all the attention they are getting at the moment. Their home crowds have been excellent for some time, usually around or over the 20,000 spectator mark, and finally their performances on the field are matching what they achieve off it.
In many respects, the Cowboys this year mirror the Knights of 1997. It was also the 10th year of the Newcastle side in the competition (admitted in 1988), and as we all know they went on to win the competition with the whole town getting behind them. This year, the Cowboys have the momentum, the support, the players and the coaching staff to go all the way. Should they manage to defeat the Roosters and make it into their first grand final, the clich?s will come out again. We?ll hear the word ?fairytale? a million times a day, and all the focus will be on them. Who they are playing in the grand final will, unfortunately, be a footnote. The fact that they made it will have the media whipped up into the biggest feeding frenzy seen in a long time.
This is all just speculation of course, and is by no means a certainty. In fact, many will tell you it is a near impossibility. The Roosters are perhaps the most feared team in the competition. They certainly have the respect from the media that the Cowboys have fought so hard to earn. The Roosters appeared on free-to-air television a total of 14 times this season, which is a staggering 7 times more than the Cowboys managed in 10 years. As such, the Roosters have a higher visibility, which in turn becomes more bargaining power when it comes to sponsors. Some say too much power, but that?s a topic for another time.
So sure, the media haven?t given them a fair go. But this is not the time for petty minded recriminations. Finally, after a long 10 years of trying, the Cowboys have arrived.
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