When football friends become foes

Each and every year, State of Origin is built up as ‘mate against mate’, but it is a unique aspect of the Intrust Super Cup that sees such confrontations happen on an almost weekly basis.

This weekend’s bumper North Queensland derby between the Townsville Blackhawks and Northern Pride this weekend is not only a showcase of two of the best teams in the competition, but an opportunity to see Cowboys contracted team-mates do battle.

It's a phenomenon that occurs regularly as Intrust Super Cup teams with NRL club affiliations put pleasantries aside for 80 minutes to fight tooth and nail for bragging rights.

Whether its Cowboys players spread across the Blackhawks, Pride and Mackay Cutters, Broncos who are divided up between Norths Devils, Wynnum Manly, Redcliffe, Ipswich and Souths Logan, Titans split between Burleigh and Tweed Heads or the Storm players shared between Sunshine Coast and Easts; there are personal clashes happening throughout the Intrust Super Cup that bring an extra level of intensity to the contest.

Ben Spina, Javid Bowen (Pride), Jahrome Hughes and Kyle Laybutt (Blackhawks) will all put Cowboys allegiances to the side come Sunday and Spina says that the “friendly fire” often gets quite heated.

“For us, it dates back to the first ever match between Mackay and the Pride in their first seasons,” recalls Spina, who will line up for the Pride this weekend. “It was a pretty fiery match actually.

“Over the years there have been some pretty fierce battles. Numerous scuffles have broken out between two players that train all week together at the Cowboys.

“You train together all week and then someone does something you wouldn’t expect because you’re a training partner with them and then you lose your frustration because you didn’t think they had it in them.

“In the early years against Mackay, I used to get up pretty high for those games, especially knowing the Cowboys coaches would be watching.

“There is that added motivation to play better than the other Cowboys counterparts because if there’s a game that you obviously test yourself directly against your competition in position, it's when you play against each other.”

The final 98 games of Glenn Hall’s 192-game NRL career were played at the Cowboys and he was affiliated with Mackay when he first joined North Queensland. He linked with the Blackhawks for their inaugural season last year and this year is playing for them exclusively following his NRL retirement last year.

Although he doesn’t go back like some locals to the storied Foley Shield days between Mackay, Cairns and Townsville, Hall sees the rivalry between the three senior teams as an extremely healthy one.

“You don't go out to try and flog each other, but during games you do go a little bit harder at your mates; but you're also there to help each other too," said Hall, who now juggles his football commitments with the Blackhawks with a full-time job.

“I remember a trial game a couple of years ago. Me and Ashton Sims were playing for Mackay against the Pride and Patty Kaufusi (who has now played two NRL games for the Cowboys) was knackered, but we both tried to encourage him to push through and get a few more minutes out.

“The fact that we know each other really pushes you along to get the best out of each other.

“There is a bit of bragging rights involved in those games, especially afterwards when you're in the gym at the Cowboys. It's always good banter.

“I've got some mates in that Pride team and even though I haven't seen them around much, it's going to be fun to go and play them and get stuck into them.”

Two of the Blackhawks' Cowboys allocations – Sam Hoare and Ray Thompson – are both absent with long-term injuries and with the Pride enjoying a three-game winning streak, Spina believes they are better positioned to atone for their two heavy defeats last season.

“Blokes still remember the two games we played against the last year where there was a pretty big scoreline and to be a good team you don't ever want to get a big score put on you,” Spina said.

“The memories are still there, but we've got a couple of young blokes in the team this year who can spark something and get four points out of nothing and you really need that against a strong team like the Blackhawks.”

A former editor of Big League, Tony Webeck is the Chief Queensland Correspondent for NRL.com.