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My first thoughts were ‘I don’t belong here, not good enough to be here’

‘State of Origin was always a big occasion at home when I was a kid’  

Dear Queenslanders,

Firstly, I’m proud. Proud to be a Queenslander. The Queensland ethos, we’re probably battlers and we’ve always got to scrap for what’s ours and what we deserve. I think there’s a lot of Queenslanders with that attitude.

Southerners or New South Welshmen, people, probably think of us as second class citizens.

It was like that when I was growing up and really, when Origin started, I was only four or five years old.

So, all through my formative years, when I was just starting to watch football, State of Origin was just a massive part of my life as a young fella. It left a big imprint on who I am as a person.

State of Origin was always a big occasion at home when I was a kid.

Back in the day, back in the 80s, there wasn’t that much football on TV so we might’ve got an ABC match of the round. A Brisbane rugby league game maybe.

I don’t think we saw any Sydney games, to be honest, on TV. So Origin was a big night. The one night you had the football on TV.

Usually all we watched was the Saturday afternoon game on ABC.

We watched the Brisbane rugby league competition so we had all those, the majority of the Queensland side, were playing in the Brisbane rugby league and we’d see those players every week.

So I had a much closer relationship to those players because the New South Wales side, I wouldn’t have even known who they were. Really.

I knew a few through reputation, but we didn’t see any of them play on TV, so really, I suppose, it made it a lot more parochial in terms of us against them.

Everyone looked up to Wally Lewis, particularly through the 80s. He pretty much ruled State of Origin football.

Paul Bowman FOG #115

Yeah, he’d be the standout – that’s for sure.

Rugby league for me started at Proserpine Brahmans. And again, that was early days when I started playing.

Now they have modified league and all that. Back in the day under 9s was the first age group you could start at. So basically I played three years at under 9s. Seven, eight and nine. So the first year was a bit of an eye opener with guys that were a few years older than me. So yeah, everything started from there.

Getting my first call up, I definitely remember the feeling.

For me, it was pretty hard to believe, to be honest. The Cowboys hadn’t had great success on the field so it was probably a little bit of a shock.

I was extremely proud but also extremely worried whether I could live up to the expectations of what it meant to play Origin football for Queensland.

There was so many great players that had gone before me and the reputation and standards were so high, and I know, as I said, growing up through the 80s, what State of Origin means to all Queenslanders, so it was actually pretty daunting to think that I would be going out there and representing them.

My first camp was a bit of an eye opener.

Firstly, the players. Gorden Tallis, Wendell Sailor, Darren Lockyer – all those guys. My first thoughts were ‘I don’t belong here, not good enough to be here’ type thing. That was an eye opener.

I was probably lucky – lucky or unlucky – my first series was sort of like the end of what were ‘the traditional Origin camps’ in terms of team bonding.

There was a little bit of team bonding that went on and that just wouldn’t happen today.

Pretty much from my next series, the next year, Wayne came in and pretty much overhauled how we did that. Which was the right thing to do.

But that was the way things had been done all through the 80s when it was a semi-professional sport. Their camps were a little bit shorter to, so getting the players together.

I suppose I was lucky to experience that, but then the results on the field in 2000 were very poor so I was thankful to get another chance in 2001.

Things changed a lot, in terms of how the camps were run, and a lot of young guys came through and played that year, in 2001, and obviously Alfie came back in that third game. That was a real highlight. 

My first run out was at ANZ Stadium, or Olympic Stadium. There wasn’t much love in Sydney.

But to run out was a bit surreal in terms of actually being there. Then lucky enough too, to play in 2000, at Lang Park, in the second game. The crowd was unbelievable.

I was lucky enough to play at the old Lang Park and a couple of years later, when that was developed, to play there again for Queensland. There’s nothing better.

The biggest highlight for me in Origin was the 2001 series.

In 2001. Photo: NRL Images
In 2001. Photo: NRL Images

We’d had a terrible year the year before which was embarrassing and to be given a second chance by Wayne Bennett, and the changes that were made and the younger kids that were brought in, was good to be part of that.

Some of those younger kids went on and played many games for Queensland. To be part of their beginning was great too.

Game III was a real highlight, just with Alfie. 2001 – the first game was the last at the old Lang Park and we had a great win that night, with some of those young guys. Carl Webb scored that try in the corner.

For Game III we played at ANZ in Brisbane, whatever that’s called now. To have Allan Langer come back and play. We spoke about the 80s and watching Origin on TV. I’d be watching Alfie Langer and that play.

To actually then play a State of Origin game with him was surreal and unbelievable. So that will always go down as a real highlight.

I was lucky enough to score a couple of tries in that game too.

Everyone talks about me as a defensive centre so it was good to get a couple of tries. Everyone was talking about me having a great game, but people only see who scores tries.

I probably didn’t think I played as well in that game as I did in other games but yeah, to get a couple of tries was really good.

That was a bit of great series and great memory. That night.

I get people talk about when I hurt my knee and kept making tackles, and I get a bit embarrassed by that story, because I was only on the field for like two minutes.

That’s what people bring up. But I guess it’s good to be remembered for something.

I couldn’t get off the field quick enough. They had the ball so I had to stay out there. It’s just something anyone would’ve done. Wasn’t anything heroic. I just had to keep making tackles. But people remember that. It’s good to be remembered for something.

Being a FOG – a former Origin great, is probably the highlight of my career.

I didn’t have a contract or anything coming out of high school. So even making it to the NRL was, not an accident, but quite lucky how I ended up at the Cowboys.

Even when I signed here, on a small contract when I was 19, I remember I was going to get this much if I played an A Grade game, and I thought ‘that’d be good, but I’m never going to play A Grade’.

So, to then play NRL games and to end up playing a couple of hundred, and then the next progression. I never thought I’d play Origin either.

I never made any Queensland sides as a junior, through junior football or school. So yeah, that was unexpected as well, and then to play 12 games.

I am humbled and honoured to have been able to represent Queensland and as I said, number 115 is my FOG number, so that’s something that can never be taken away from me and it’s something I’m very proud of.

I’m lucky enough to have a carnival at home now, an under 9s carnival. We had 80 sides last year for the Paul Bowman Challenge.

I’m tremendously proud of the impact that has in the community – in Proserpine and the Whitsunday region.

They have one of my old Proserpine jerseys actually, talking about Origin, that I’d got the nicko out and because Origin players had their name of the back, I put Bowman in black nicko across the back of my Proserpine jersey and drew a Queensland flag there on the front badge. And a Queensland Origin symbol. So that would’ve been under 9s or 10s that I did that.

So, they have that hanging up in the clubhouse at home.

That’s probably a bit of insight into the passion that I had for Origin back then. So to go on and play was pretty amazing.

There’s not many young kids that know who I am now though.

When did I retire? 2007. So that’s like 13 years ago. There’s guys that are coming through that, you know, even in our squad now, that were only in early primary school. Some guys were only a couple of years old when I retired.

With my carnival, I have been lucky enough to get there every year and go around and meet the kids and sign their autographs.

And it’s becoming more and more the kid’s parents. The kids don’t know who I am, but the parents do. It’s a great weekend.

Queensland fans, how would I describe them? How would I describe you? Rabid. Very passionate. Passionate and loyal.

Paul Bowman FOG #115

You know, a couple of games in a series there, in 2000 when we didn’t do well, that didn’t diminish the love that the fans have for the team, and the passion. That’ll never diminish I suppose.

Tremendously loyal and passionate. Please continue what you have been doing for the last 40 years.

Even people south of the border would acknowledge that the atmosphere at Lang Park/Suncorp is probably the best atmosphere anywhere in the league, in any game that you’ll play.

I would love you to continue to keep doing what you’ve been doing.

Obviously, we’ve had a couple of tough years, the last two, but we had a tremendous run for a while so hopefully we can turn it around.

I think the future of Queensland will always be bright.

Everyone knows we’ve got many great rugby league nurseries throughout Queensland.

I spoke about my carnival and its getting bigger and bigger every year. So in terms of participation, and numbers playing rugby league, I think it seems to be getting bigger and bigger.

So as long as we have young kids coming through, playing rugby league, and seeing their heroes playing State of Origin, and doing Queensland proud, I think we’ll hopefully see a lot of young kids come through.

We have had, I suppose you’d call it a golden generation just finish up over the last couple of years, but hopefully the next generation is not too far around the corner.

We were lucky enough to have Kalyn Ponga up here and we all know what a talent he is.

So it’s going to be interesting and exciting to watch how he matures and progresses over the years.

The opportunities are there for the taking, in terms of those younger guys.

We just had that nucleus in that side that was fairly constant for nine or 10 years. Guys were just picking themselves.

Now there’s plenty of opportunity for guys to put their hand up and really cement their spot in the side, which is exciting for those guys.

Some senior guys here really need to take on that senior role, guys like Mick Morgan, and now Val Holmes is back.

Look to those guys to take on that senior role for Queensland.

Bring on Origin.

Kind regards,

Paul Bowman

FOG #115

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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