Sometimes people don’t receive the rewards they deserve. Some people pour themselves into their dreams and fail to see their faith rewarded. Matty Bowen had an exceptional career but unfortunately, he was never given the fairytale ending he as a player and he as a man probably deserved.
The Queensland born fullback started playing rugby at school at the age of 12 beginning a wonderful journey with a disappointing ending.
Ultimately, his success at school saw him make the leap into North Queensland’s reserves. There was plenty of interest across the NRL but he simply couldn’t turn down his hometown club.
Soon enough he was starring in the reserve grade helping his side to the Grand Final in 2000. A year later he kissed reserve rugby goodbye instantly making a splash in the NRL featuring in the Cowboys’ first game of the season before making a further 14 appearances in his breakout season. His form saw him star at halfback for the Junior Kangaroos after previously impressing for Queensland Under-19s a year earlier.
2002 was a massive year for Bowen. He cemented himself as North Queensland’s number one and scored 12 tries in 24 games. Despite that, 2003 was arguably bigger as the starlet began to reach the true heights expected of a future star. He made his Queensland debut in 2003 before being named in Australia’s Tri-Nations squad in 2004 underlining his potential and the storied career he was expected to embark upon.
The now well-loved North Queensland fullback was making a splash on the representative stage but what was he achieving with the Cowboys? Well, in 2004 he guided them to their first play-off appearance before going even further in 2005.
That year saw Jonathan Thurston join the Cowboys in a move that would define his career. It’s safe to say he and Bowen quickly formed a superb partnership which guided the Cowboys all the way to the Grand Final.
It could have been perfect for Bowen if he’d been allowed to win the Premiership with his hometown team but it wasn’t to be. Benji Marshall conjured up one of the all-time great Grand Final tries for Pat Richards as the Wests Tigers denied the Cowboys to claim the crown.
From there things for both Bowen and his club began to stall. He was dropped from Origin in 2006 as North Queensland began to slip down the table.
However, things got back on track in 2007. Bowen produced a scintillating campaign racking up the tries and the individual honours reminding the world of his mercurial talents. That said, it would typify a difficult aspect of his career: constantly missing out by the barest of margins. After being denied Grand Final glory in 2005, he found himself shockingly left out of the Australia squad in 2007 as events conspired to take away the moments he undoubtedly deserved.
Things would continue to go that way. Even in 2011 after another stellar season he found himself behind the likes of Billy Slater when it came to both Queensland and Australia selection. 2011 saw him poach tries left, right and centre, set the record for the most Cowboys’ appearances and be nominated for the Rugby League International Federation’s Fullback of the Year and yet it still wasn’t enough to warrant the achievements at representative level or the club honours you’d expect him to claim.
After two more years at the Cowboys, he finally made the leap to Super League after rejecting offers in 2011 owing to his love for North Queensland. His Cowboys departure wasn’t the ending he’d have written in an already common occurrence with his omission from the representative games ending his career beyond club rugby.
He arrived at Wigan ahead of 2014 as Sam Tomkins’ replacement. Although not as eye-catching as his predecessor, Bowen was still an exceptional fullback who underpinned a very good campaign for the Warriors which could’ve and perhaps should’ve ended in Super League glory but for a Ben Flower red card – another season with an undeserved bad ending for the Queenslander.
But surely 2015 would be different. It promised to be his absolute end with retirement awaiting at the end of the campaign as well as the return of Sam Tomkins to reclaim the number one jersey.
After a slow start to the season, Bowen revealed his class in one of the finest individual performances of the year against Leeds at the Magic Weekend. In the end, his Wigan side would finish just behind the Rhinos on points difference.
Their second-place finish was in keeping with the pattern of his career as it itself was heart-breaking like plenty of his near misses. Bowen and the Warriors had finished their game top only for a late Ryan Hall try to pinch the shield – something else stolen from a fine player and a fine man.
At Old Trafford though, he threatened to rewrite that wrong. A new father going into his final game he was desperate to accomplish the one thing he’d yet to achieve – win a Grand Final. He very nearly dragged Wigan to victory by himself with a superb solo try and what could’ve been a man of the match performance on another night.
But this night belonged to the Rhinos and their departing legends as they claimed the treble. For Bowen he was handed another sad ending to round off his career but it wasn’t for the lack of trying or any lack of quality from the fullback. It just seemed like at times things simply didn’t go his way.
That didn’t stop him from wanting to be involved in the game however. In fact, he’s used our great game as a stepping off point to help others. After a brief stint with Townsville Blackhawks in the Intrust Super Cup, he’d join North Queensland fulltime as Community Engagement Officer using the club he loved to get out into the community around him. He still supports the club’s work in the community today having also worked with the NRL to support community around the league as a Community Ambassador.
That’s not the only thing he finds himself involved with these days. He’s also an Ambassador for the National Non-Contact Rugby League Program in Australia. He also still has a strange presence in the Cowboys team today with relative Javid Bowen featuring for them this term.