Former Mustang talks bush footy, QLD debut, path to NRL
AFTER 323 first grade NRL games, a premiership, two grand finals, six State of Origin matches for Queensland and an NRL all stars appearance, rugby league legend Gavin Cooper has played his last game in the Cowboys colours.
The second-rower who was instrumental in the Cowboys maiden grand final win in 2015 ran out onto Suncorp stadium for the last time on Thursday September 24, defeating the Broncos by 16 points.
Born in Murgon, Cooper played his junior footy for the Murgon Mustangs, a club he said shaped the player he became.
“I really grew to love the game in Murgon, from a young age I would always have a football in my hand and for about 10 months of the year I was playing rugby league, with a little bit of cricket in between,” Cooper said.
“Besides getting a bit bigger and slower, my style of footy hasn’t changed much from when I was running around in the South Burnett comp.
“It was a tough comp back then, we only ever had enough kids for every second grade.
“I have some very memorable grand finals against Kingaroy, their were a lot of good footballers around the region and I have a lot of friends who went on to play first grade from the South Burnett competition.”
Cooper played for Murgon from 1989-2002 before making his way through the ranks at the Redcliffe Dolphins.
By 2006, he had made his debut for the North Queensland Cowboys, before stints with both the Gold Coast Titans and Penrith Panthers.
Cooper returned to Townsville in 2011, where the Cowboys began to string together seven years of consecutive finals appearances.
He was a driving force behind the club’s maiden premiership in 2015 and also captained the club to a grand final in 2017, losing several key players throughout the year to injury.
Cooper said winning the 2015 grand final will always be one of his best memories from his time in the NRL.
“Obviously winning the grand final is something I will never forget, but growing up in the bush all you want to do is play for Queensland,” Cooper said.
“I always knew I was capable of doing it, I just couldn’t crack it through those early 2000s when they won all those series.
“To finally crack it in 2016 was something special and something I will always remember.
“Having my two boys run out onto the field after a win is something I am going to miss.”
In a career that spanned 15-years across three clubs, Cooper scored 79 tries for the Cowboys to become the highest scoring forward in the club’s history.
He is also the fourth highest capped Cowboy behind Johnathan Thurston, Matt Bowen and Matt Scott.
Over the years Cooper has stayed in close contact with the Mustangs and said now that he has more time he hopes to be involved even more.
“Five years ago when we won the comp we took the trophy back to Murgon and had a big dinner to raise some much needed money for the junior league club,” Cooper said.
“They are doing really well again and have named a trophy in my honour for the most influential mustang of the year, which is pretty special.
“It’s a great club and now that I have a bit more time I will definitely be trying to help out where I can.”