Our interview series with former players continues with pt 6; with former North Queensland Cowboys and Gold Coast Titans utility back, Brenton Bowen.
With a synonymous surname in rugby league, a love of the game and the skill to boot, Bowen opened up on life prior to first-grade, his career and what the game means to him.
So, sit back, relax and enjoy his open, honest answers.
Q1: Your surname is synonymous in rugby league; what drew you into rugby league?
A: My earliest memory of Rugby League is when I was a kid; I remember my dad and uncles playing for the Mossman Sharks in the Cairns Local Rugby League Competition.
I’d sometimes hop on the footy bus with my dad and follow him down to Cairns from Hope Vale to watch him play. When I got a bit older, I loved watching Allan Langer play for the Broncos.
I was a big Broncos fan growing up because they had a lot of QLD Origin players.
Q2: With Matthew Bowen being your cousin, what were your rugby league memories growing up with him?
A: We were both very competitive. There was always a competitive rivalry between us from our time growing up at Hope Vale.
Every time we played backyard footy or a game of touch footy, we would always be on opposing teams.
We always wanted to outdo each other but at the same time had so much respect for each other.
Q3: Born in Cairns, you went on to play for Cairns Brothers at the junior level and then the North Queensland Cowboys; what were those experiences like and what did it mean to you to play first-grade?
A: Although I was born in Cairns, I grew up in Hope Vale near Cooktown. I did my High Schooling years at St. Teresa’s College Abergowrie (near Ingham).
It wasn’t until I was 16 that I played for Cairns Brothers and we went on the win the Grand Final that year. I’d make the 3-hour trip north to play footy on the weekends.
I have some of my fondest memories playing footy alongside my school mates. None more special than winning the Confraternity Carnival in 1999 with my St. Teresa’s College schoolmates.
Matty Bowen and Palmer Wapau were on the same side also. Palmer went on to play for the Brisbane Broncos.
When the Cowboys entered the NRL competition in 1995, I instantly changed teams from the Broncos to the Cowboys, haha!
We had an NRL team to support in our very own backyard. To actually have the opportunity to not only play for them but to actually debut with them was a dream come true.
One goal of mine was definitely ticked off.
Q4: After some success at the Cowboys, you moved to the Titans for a sole season in 2008; what prompted that move?
A: At the time, the Titans were offering me a 2-year contract whereas the Cowboys were only offering me a 12-month contract.
So I thought I needed something with more stability and decided to sign with the Titans. It was a very tough decision to make to move to the Gold Coast as 2007 was a very good year for me at the Cowboys as I was playing regular first grade.
I enjoyed my time at the Titans over the two years that I was there.
Although I didn’t play many games down there I got to play/train along side the likes of Scotty Prince, Preston Campbell, Matt Rogers, Chris Walker, Brad Meyers, Luke Bailey etc.
I only played a hand full of games in 2008 and spend the 2009 season with The Tweed Seagulls.
Q5: You stayed in rugby league after that and played several seasons with the Northern Pride; did you feel as if that was a demotion or was it refreshing to continue playing at the grassroots level?
A: Yes, once my time with the Titans came to an end at the end of 2009, I made my way back to Far North Queensland to play for the Northern Pride.
I felt that it was refreshing to be able to go back to grassroots level. Although, my 2-3 years there was marred by injury and later on doctors found a benign tumour on my Pituitary gland (just under the Brain).
Q6: Post-footy, do you still have an involvement within the game whether it be in a professional capacity or as a fan?
A: These days, I’m just a passionate fan of the game. I’d love to get back involved in the game as I love it and love what it gave me but my work commitments and family commitments take priority in my life now.
Q7: What is your greatest memory from your rugby league career?
A: My greatest memory from my Rugby League career would have to be my debut game; Round 3 2003 vs Manly. I came off the bench that day – Ty Williams got injured – and coach Graham Murray gave me the nod to take the field in place of Ty.
I was up against John Hopoate. After the game, he shook my hand and wished me all the best in my NRL career I thought that was pretty special.
Other memories and highlights were obviously getting to play first grade alongside my cousin Matty Bowen.
Q8: As a successful player, if you could give one piece of advice to any budding player that wants to play rugby league, what would it be?
A: The advice I would to anyone who wants to play at that level is to never give up on your dream. Billy Slater is a perfect example. I am the same age as Billy, he didn’t make many if not any of rep teams through the junior grades he’d always miss out but to his credit, he didn’t give up. Now he’s one of the best players in the world.
One that I use for budding rugby league players from the bush/communities that get homesick is that “home isn’t going anywhere,” it’s always going to be there.
There are a lot of talented footy players from the bush/communities that would make it in the NRL but are afraid to move away from home.