THE success of the North Queensland Cowboys could cost the club some of its most loyal supporters.
The Cowboys have been handed a less than ideal draw for their large travelling fan base.
The 2015 premiers and this year’s grand finalists have been one of the NRL’s best performed clubs over the past three years and that success has seen them transform into a television darling.
In 2017, the Cowboys played one Thursday night and two Friday night games at 1300 SMILES Stadium in Townsville.
Next year they are scheduled to play two Thursday night and five Friday night games at home.
The Cowboys prefer to play on Saturdays given nearly 30 per cent of their supporter base travel more than 100km to attend games.
But with Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo dominating the game, they are now one of the most attractive teams to watch on television and broadcasters want them playing in prime time slots.
“It’s another challenging draw but one you’d expect if you’d played two grand finals in the last few years,” CEO Greg Tonner said.
“The challenges come from moving from one Thursday and two Friday games to two Thursdays and five Fridays. Two of those Fridays are at 6pm.
“Nearly 30 per cent of our crowd travel more than 100km and that’s going to make it really hard.
“This is going to be a tough season for them but we need them. We’re going to need support from the employers, government and schools to make sure we’re here to support our team.
“We have to come to grips that the performance of this club in the last half-decade (means) our demand for broadcast times is growing. We’re going to have to find a way to manage both.”
The Cowboys will kick off their 2018 campaign with a home game against the Sharks at 1300 SMILES Stadium.
The match will be Thurston’s 300th NRL game and 271st appearance for the Cowboys, making him the most capped player in the club’s history.
They face the Broncos in round 2 at Suncorp Stadium on a Friday night but the Townsville derby will be played on a Thursday again in round 22.
The Cowboys managed to sell out last season’s derby on a Thursday and the NRL is confident they can do so again despite the tough timeslot for fans.
“We prefer it to be on a Friday or Saturday,” Tonner said.
“The upside is it’s round 22 instead of round 25. It’s tough and challenging. We need to make sure the people that come and make an effort are rewarded.
“We’ve got a team worth following. This is a special time.
“Our club works because of it’s players and community. We need to be here together.
“We’re a country club that wants to be No. 1 in Australia. We’re seeing that success come through in the demands of when we play.”
The grand final rematch between the Storm and Cowboys will be played in round 3 at AAMI Park in Melbourne on a Thursday.