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24 hours ago
Being stripped of the captaincy is often a sign of the beginning of the end for a rugby league player.
For North Queensland's only remaining foundation player Paul Bowman, it breathed new life into his career.
Bowman was seen to be on the outer with Cowboys coach Graham Murray when he was reportedly "stripped" of the captaincy after round six last year.
Life was hardly great for the class centre when former Bulldog Travis Norton took over the captaincy last April with the Cowboys struggling having won just one of their first six games that season.
Bowman also missed out on the initial 22-strong Queensland squad when it was named for the 2004 opener.
These days, however, Bowman can't wipe the smile off his face.
After reclaiming his Origin spot, Bowman featured in the Cowboys' dramatic 2004 playoff debut, falling one short of a maiden grand final.
Far from satisfied, Bowman and his beloved North Queensland picked up where they left off this season to book a grand final debut against Wests Tigers on Sunday night.
Those "dark days" of 2004 seemed light years away for Bowman as the Cowboys - fuelled by an hysterical Townsville fan base - prepared for a crack at an historic NRL premiership at Telstra Stadium.
Suffice to say, Bowman said he had "no regrets" over relinquishing the captaincy for what he described as a "very harmonious" Cowboys side.
"There was no problem with Muz (Murray) and I am enjoying my role now," he said.
"It's good to be in the background and lead by example rather than have that responsibility of the captaincy.
"I've been through a lot of hard times.
"Getting to this point seemed a long way off five or six years ago so to get here is unbelievable."
Proserpine-bred Bowman made his first grade debut in 1995 - the year of the Cowboys' inception.
But there wasn't much to celebrate at first as the Cowboys quickly became the league's whipping boys.
Now Bowman wants to add something to North Queensland's three wooden spoons - an NRL premiership.
"In the early days there probably wasn't much light at the end of the tunnel," he said.
"But with each new season we've improved. I had always hoped that we would make a grand final - I just can't believe we are there now.
"This means everything being a foundation Cowboy.
"The thought (of leaving) did cross my mind after a few wooden spoons in the draw but that's where I am from.
"All of my family is close to there. It's great to play for a place where you are from, where you have grown up, so I never really seriously considered it."
After copping flak for their failures, North Queensland had now established a "winning culture" according to Bowman.
"I think so, during the hard times the boys had been hoping to do well," he said.
"But now there is more expectation. It isn't hope, it's belief that we can win.
"And that winning culture attracts good, young players to the club like Carl Webb and Johnathan Thurston."
And Bowman believes it's time the Cowboys were rewarded for their "natural progression".
"I haven't thought about Tri Nations but in the past a lot of players have come out of grand final sides," he said.
"I probably think there are a lot of our blokes who definitely deserve to make the Australian side and we've got a few Kiwis who are a big show."