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Bowen and Baira: Townsville's perfect coaching combination

When Rugby League Townsville and Districts received the resumes of Matt Bowen and Roy Baira for the job of coaching their A grade men’s representative team, there was only one thing to be done.

Both men had incredible experience, not just as coaches, but as players.

Bowen’s name alone is synonymous with rugby league, not just in the North, but across all of Queensland. Baira, meanwhile, had held the coaching job in 2021 and was also doing great things with the Townsville Blackhawks.

They were both more than qualified for the job and had that extra ingredient the RLTD were looking for – they were Northern men, born and bred. They understood exactly what it means to represent Townsville. And they are good mates.

The solution was clear – Bowen and Baira had to be a co-coaching team.

Baira with the Townsville team on day one of the 2022 Foley Shield. Photo: Scott Radford-Chisholm/QRL
Baira with the Townsville team on day one of the 2022 Foley Shield. Photo: Scott Radford-Chisholm/QRL

“We had a competitions committee meeting and it was decided it would be a shame for one of those guys to miss out,” RLTD board member Andrew Walters said.

“They’re both very smart footballers with a lot of experience, obviously. Matty is a legend and needs no introduction. Roy, through the local league and the Blackhawks, has incredible credentials.

“We just knew that they were friends and had been for a long time and thought that chemistry would mean a good partnership.

“They’re well aware of what a Townsville representative team means for the community. Playing for Townsville… it’s more than just for their own benefit, it’s for the league community up here. It puts us on the map.

“They’re both brilliant coaches and we’re very happy with our choices.”

Walters, who is also the chairperson of the game development and stakeholders committee, was the one who reached out to Bowen and Baira to offer them the opportunity to be co-coaches.

There was no hesitation from either of them and in May they enjoyed their first success together, leading Townsville to the 2022 XXXX Foley Shield title.

Now the next challenge lies ahead, with Townsville to play Rockhampton – the winner of Central’s XXXX 47th Battalion carnival – in Saturday’s XXXX League Championship semi-final at Rockhampton’s Browne Park.

While it’s not a normal representative situation, with training scheduled in and around the A grade and even Hostplus Cup duties of some of their players, Bowen and Baira have meshed well together.

Bowen said they had known each other since the Hope Vale product moved to Townsville in his late teens and, with strong desires for the pair around their coaching careers, it made perfect sense to work together.

“He’s a bit older than me and I used to hang around his younger brother and I used to see Roy a fair bit,” Bowen said of Baira.

“I’ve known him for a fair while now and we’ve become good mates ourselves.

“Roy has coached a lot of these guys at Brothers so they know him and what to expect. I jump in and help out wherever I can. I’m enjoying doing it that way.

“We’re both obviously willing to give feedback to the players and each other. It’s a rather good combination, myself and Roy. The boys respect that as well.”

Bowen with the Townsville team after they claimed the 2022 Foley Shield. Photo: Scott Radford-Chisholm/QRL
Bowen with the Townsville team after they claimed the 2022 Foley Shield. Photo: Scott Radford-Chisholm/QRL

Both Baira and Bowen represented Townsville at the XXXX Foley Shield as they came through the ranks of their respective playing careers so know exactly how it feels to be sitting where their players are sitting today.

Rugby league fans are familiar with Bowen and his game style – the flashy and lightning fast fullback, with the silky skills and fancy footwork.

Baira was the opposite – a strong hooker and lock known for his hard defensive output.

“Once we found out we were together, we had a yarn,” Baira said.

“We went through our strengths and mine is through the middle and in defence. And Matty, with his career, his strengths were through attack.

“I had a structure around the team and he liked it.

“We work to our strengths – me through the middle and him with our outside backs and halves.

“When they called us about co-coaching, I said yes straight away because I knew we’d complement each other and the team. It worked out perfect.

“I only went through local league and played one year of state league. Everyone knows Matty Bowen and he’s done it all. We’ll look to Matty more at the end of this week and talk about his experiences and how he felt repping the jerseys he’s worn.

“That’s a great bonus for us. I can only do so much through the coaching and Matty can motivate through his experience.

“The boys have a lot of respect for both of us. We know they’ll listen. When it’s time to go out and play, the boys will be on.”

Townsville has a chance to be the first North team to advance to the XXXX League Championship final.

Mackay fell just short last year, losing to Toowoomba in the dying minutes in the inaugural year of the competition.

The winner of the semi-final has the chance to go on and play the Gold Coast, who took out South East’s XXXX Chairman’s Challenge in May.

A major focus for Baira and Bowen ahead of the XXXX Foley Shield was teaching the players about the importance of representing Townsville and wearing the jersey.

This time around, it’s not just teaching them what it means to represent Townsville, but the entire North region.

“Townsville were embarrassed by Mackay last year in the Foley Shield and this year we wanted to put up a good fight and move on to the next one,” Bowen said.

“We had the team to do it and we did it.

“They’re not just playing for Townsville anymore but the wider region, for everyone from the XXXX Foley Shield – Mackay and Cairns.

“We’re taking it one step at a time. It’s an old cliché but the boys, we have to get them ready, get them prepared for this weekend. We have to try to expose Rockhampton, work out what their strengths are … we’re looking forward to that.”

Baira said he had watched Rockhampton’s games from the XXXX 47th Battalion five or six times and was also familiar with Rustlers halfback Angus Dorante, who is originally from North Queensland.

He said the whole team, from himself and Bowen down to the playing group, were taking the Championship seriously and knew what it meant to their supporters and community.

For Baira, Townsville’s eyes are on the prize.

“This added bonus to move on through to the XXXX Challenge after winning XXXXX Foley Shield, we’re not just representing Townsville but all of North Queensland,” Baira said.

“It’s not just a little thing anymore. We’ve spoken about that as well. We’re looking to do well for the North.

“The players have to make sure they understand who they represent and our people up north. It’s all about making the fellas before us proud.

“It would be everything (to win). That’s what we’re here for, that’s why we compete.

“You play to compete, you compete to be one of the best. We want to represent the North well and our families and each other. We’re keen to rip in.”


The XXXX League Championship semi-final will be livestreamed exclusively on Try a Round Pass for just $4.99.

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