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Cotter to lead the young Cowboys in 2024

Andrew Mathieson -

Reuben Cotter appeared just once for the North Queensland Cowboys in his first three NRL seasons.

The Torres Strait Islander's career at the end of 2018 appeared to be at the crossroads.

The ongoing knee troubles seriously questioned his future longevity in the game.

Just five additional matches the next year did not suggest the Cowboys had a captain-in-waiting hidden among their ranks.

But running out for the last three fixtures of the 2019 season feeling the week-to-week grind changed everything, and ahead of a time when society was curling up away in the pandemic, a bristling leader started to emerge.

The honours have flourished out of Cowboys country for the gritty product of Mackay, but none better than co-captaining the club with Tom Dearden from the same town.

"If you had told me back then that I would accomplish playing for my state, playing for my country, and captaining the club, I would not have believed you," Cotter told the Cowboys' media in a live video.

"It was a tough time those (first) three years.

"I was waiting for footy, and I am just very grateful of having the support of the club, my family, and my wife – she was with me right at the start.

"She's been great, and I have just been very fortunate being here six years on and just having this opportunity is something I am just very excited about. I really can't wait."

The former Sarina Crocodiles junior has represented the Maroons on four occasions in State of Origin, claiming the Wally Lewis Medal for their 2023 player of the series, in addition to representing the Kangaroos five times as recently as last November.

Dearden, three years younger than Cotter at 22, has also had a remarkable resurgence into the new role, including a 2022 Queensland debut.

He seemingly bore the brunt of the first wooden spoon for the Brisbane Broncos, but has flourished at the Cowboys since joining midway through 2021 after his ex-club tried Albert Kelly, Tyson Gamble, Karmichael Hunt and Brodie Croft in the halves.

That says a lot for the growth of the top playmaker, who is set to be a younger captain than club great Johnathan Thurston was back in the 2007 season.

So Cotter is delighted to share this journey with another local, who holds tightly onto a similar redemption story that once started on a downtrodden path.

"It's obviously a massive privilege, a massive honour," Cotter said.

"I have supported this club since I could remember. I have played all of my football in North Queensland.

"I am just really proud to be captaining alongside Tommy Dearden, also from Mackay, down that way. It just means a lot to me."

The pair will succeed Cowboys veteran Jason Taumalolo and NRL journeyman Chad Townsend, who will step back from the captaincy, but remain both at the club in the leadership group.

Cotter, who has played hooker, prop and in the back row, has shown he can adjust his game style to suit the team's needs and likewise is trying to shape the way he runs out onto the field every week similarly.

Until he finds his style, the predecessors of the role are always on hand to lend advice to the aspirational 25-year-old.

"It's going to be and has been very beneficial already this training during the post and pre-Christmas period, I have to say," Cotter said.

"It's been great to lean on and learn from, off both Chaddy and Jase – they're both still great leaders in their own ways.

"It's going to be interesting this year how we go as I still have a lot to learn."

But Cotter has pledged to "never take it for granted" - and to stand up for loyal supporters of North Queensland for a club they can always take pride in.

That will start from his own workman-like approach, borne out of humble beginnings amid the aftermath of torrential weather in recent times that has battered the spirit of the people in the region.

"I want this team to be viewed as winners, hard-working, an effort-based sort of team and a resilient bunch as well," Cotter said.

"I think the people of North Queensland in the face of adversity sort of bandy together always and are also a resilient community.

"I like to represent this community the same way and giving our all every time we go out there."

Cowboys coach Todd Payten is confident the club has made the right choice to drive the team up the ladder.

"We believe Reuben and Tom will complement each other as leaders," Payten said.

"They represent everything we stand for and who we are as a club.

"They are local kids, they are relentlessly dedicated to this club and their teammates, but they have also had some life challenges, which they have had to work their way through and now they're representative players.

"Reuben and Tom lead everything we do, whether that be on the field, in the video room or preparing for games. They are terrific examples to the rest of our playing group."

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