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North Queensland celebrates a day nobody thought would arrive

Statewide

Even when they built it, Matt Bowen doubted it would happen.

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About 28,000 fans will attend the first State of Origin to be played in a regional city at Townsville’s new Queensland Country Bank Stadium on Wednesday, tickets selling within minutes after the late move away from Melbourne’s MCG due to COVID-19.

One of 53 players from Queensland’s northern regions to grace the State of Origin stage, former Cowboys fullback Bowen is tipping Townsville’s historic night to have a profound impact on the region.

“It’s why they built the stadium … Elton John opened it (in February 2020) but an Origin in Townsville, I never thought it would happen,” Bowen told AAP.

“I don’t think (outsiders) realise how much we love league here, but they’ll find out on Wednesday and I don’t think it’ll be the last Origin game here either.”

Cowboys winger and Townsville product Kyle Feldt will become the 218th man to wear Maroon and inspire the next generation of North Queensland talent to follow in the footsteps of Billy Slater, Nate Myles, Colin Scott, Sam Thaiday and Paul Bowman.

“I remember (North Queenslanders) Nathan Fein, Johnny Doyle and Johnny Buttergeig playing for the Maroons … I thought if they can do it, I can do it as well,” Bowen said.

“Michael Morgan and Feldty both went to Iggy Park (Ignatius Park College); kids can see them coming from their own backyard and now playing here in Townsville for the Maroons.”

Bowen and other former Origin players from the north of the state will have a pre-game reunion on Wednesday before 29-year-old Feldt makes his debut, nine seasons after making his NRL debut.

“He’s learnt how to be consistent, we all know how talented he is, but just that consistency,” Queensland mentor Paul Green, who coached Feldt at the Cowboys for six-and-a-half seasons, said.

A noted leaper with good finishing skills, Green admitted they would look to play to Feldt’s strengths against rival winger Brian To’o, who is about 20cm shorter.

“He’s good under the high ball; it’s what he brings to the team and I want to play to people’s strengths,” Green said.

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