Adrian Vowles recalls journey from remote cattle farm to Man of Steel with Castleford Tigers

From humble beginnings in a remote part of Australia, Adrian Vowles went on to carve out a remarkable rugby league career that included Origin and international honours as well as the Man of Steel award.

GROWING UP on a remote sheep and cattle farm with his parents in Charleville Queensland, it’s hard to imagine that Adrian Vowles would ultimately become a living legend in rugby league on opposite sides of the world.

To give you some indication of just how remote the town of Charleville is, Brisbane is located 747km away, Toowoomba 616km and medical treatment is only provided by the Royal Flying Doctors service.

However, this remote area is the birthplace of a legend who not only left the country life to make it big in the city, but he also forged a career that most players could only dream of.

“Growing up on a cattle farm has its pros and cons, but I reckon I had the best childhood out of any other kids.

“Although we didn’t have modern luxuries such as electricity, TV and shopping centres, we simply had to make do with what we had.

“I used to shoot rifles, ride horses and motorbikes and for inside entertainment, we would listen to the radio.

“The postman only came once a week to drop off the mail and our groceries and we grew a lot of our food.”

However, things would certainly change for the kid from the country, when he moved from Charleville to Cunnamulla, a town situated 246km away, that would see Vowles pick up a rugby league ball for the very first time.

“I was nine years old when mum and dad took me to the local Cunnamulla Rams RLFC. 

“Fast forward the clock and after a few representative games under my belt, I was scouted by the Redcliffe Dolphins having been selected in a Queensland Rugby League camp.”

Vowles’ transition from country boy to city slicker was all coming together nicely and it would be the Gold Coast that the future Man of Steel winner would arrive at when he signed for the Southport Tigers club.

“My biggest break came on the Gold Coast when former Cronulla Sharks legend Steve Rodgers asked me to play for his Gold Coast Representative team as they were short on numbers.

“Steve was an idol of mine, so how could I say no!

“From that game, I was scouted by the Gold Coast Seagulls and earned a contract to play with their U21’s side.

“I was playing some good footy in the lower grades and when we had Wally Lewis come in as coach of the first-grade side in 1992, it was so surreal.

“I was a big fan of the King as a kid and when he pulled me aside one night to tell me that I was making my first-grade debut against the touring Great Britain side in 1992, my head started spinning.

“I ended up playing 38 games for the Seagulls under Wally, but it was my reserve grade coach Grant Bell who I really excelled under.

“Then, when Grant was appointed head coach of the inaugural North Queensland Cowboys side in 1995, I decided to follow him up to Townsville.”

Vowles spent two seasons in North Queensland playing in over 40 games for the club, but he was soon to swap the sunshine for the cold and grey skies of the North of England, when he packed his bags to sign with the Castleford Tigers.

“The Super League war had broken out in Australia and there were a lot of players disillusioned with what the future held for them.

“Former Castleford coach, the late Darryl Van De Velde, called me to see if I would be interested in heading to England as he said the club were looking for a few imports.”

With over 140 appearances for the Tigers, Vowles exceeded expectations taking out the coveted Man of Steel award in 1999, making the Super League Dream team in the same year and was eventually inducted into the Castleford Rugby League Hall of Fame.

“My time at Cas was magnificent. I had the best time there and the supporters were so fanatical.”

Having ended his tenure at Castleford, Vowles signed with cross town rivals Leeds Rhinos in 2002, Wakefield in 2003 and came full circle when he wound back up at Castleford.

“Wakey were another great club I played for. They made me feel welcome from the get-go and I didn’t want to leave.

“However, they had signed a few other imports and the writing was on the wall for me, so I quit.”

Whilst the Queenslander enjoyed a stellar domestic career, Vowles’ caps for both Queensland and Scotland rank highly on his résumé.

“You have to realise that it’s a big deal for any player to don that Queensland jersey. You just can’t describe in words the euphoric feeling you get when you pull on that Maroons jersey.

“The other jersey I cherish is that of Scotland, where I qualified via my grandmother who is Scottish.

“I figured I may never play for Australia, but when the opportunity came knocking to represent my grandmother’s heritage, I jumped at the chance.”

Post retirement, Vowles has picked up the clipboard and embarked on a coaching career that has seen him deeply embedded in the women’s game.

“I enjoy coaching the women. They really are coming on in leaps and bounds, because they are now starting at a much younger age.

“I’ve coached the Queensland women’s team, have been the assistant coach for the Australian Jillaroos and was successful in steering the Fiji women’s national side when I was their coach.

“I also run the Adrian Vowles Cup in which U14-u16’s boys and girls compete in my hometown of Charleville featuring teams from regional areas of Queensland.

“If you were to tell me back then as that kid on the farm that I would have travelled this route through rugby league, I probably would have laughed at you.

“But I’ve been blessed to have been given the opportunities rugby league has given me and encourage any other youngster to follow your dreams like I did.”

First published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 497 (June 2024)

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