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by Nick Campton

Paul Green built the the 2015 premiership dream into a reality for North Queensland

Paul Green embraces Johnathan Thurston after the 2015 NRL grand final. Green was the architect behind the Cowboys' success. (Artwork: Kyle Pollard)

After a team has won the premiership it's easy to say it was their destiny.

Once the dust has settled and the confetti has dropped and the beers have been cracked and the tears have been shed it's easy to look back at everything that happened in the lead up and feel like you always knew this team would win it all.

But that's not right. Destiny doesn't really exist in rugby league, because there is no fate but what we make for ourselves.

Great coaches understand this, and because of that they allow nothing to chance. They can't rely on luck, they can only rely on what they and their team can create with the strength of their backs and the sweat of their brow and whatever force of will they can muster.

The 2015 North Queensland Cowboys, coached by Paul Green who died on Thursday, was one of those teams that seemed to reek of destiny.

They were the masters of winning games that weren't just close, but lived on the edge of a knife. That season had so many late-game heroics from Johnathan Thurston it's hard to keep track of them all as the Cowboys rode the lightning all the way to their first premiership which was, of course, won in golden point after a last-minute try to level the scores.

North Queensland's last-second win over Brisbane will never be forgotten.  (Getty Images: Cameron Spencer )

That will forever be the greatest night in the club's history, because even if North Queensland win the premiership this year or even if they win the next ten in a row, something can only happen for the first time once.

And there were so many heroes – like Jason Taumalolo and Jake Granville and Michael Morgan and Lachlan Coote and the unfashionable backline and Thurston himself – that it's easy to overlook the low-key coach.

The Cowboys had enough talent that it's easy to think Green's only job was to send them out there and stay out of the way as they fulfilled their destiny.

Because it was so dramatic on the night they beat Brisbane, and there were so many minor miracles along the way, you'd be forgiven for thinking all of it was meant to happen, a serendipitous meeting of players at a time and place where they could all become champions together.

But champion teams don't exist like that. They are not gifts sent from heaven, they are built, and Paul Green is the one who did the building.

The Cowboys were a solid team when he arrived for season 2014 – not a premiership contender, but a consistent finals side.

They'd made a start, certainly, but anyone can start something.

Finishing it off is much harder.

Green is the one who guided them through those last steps, which are the hardest steps of all, to that October night where they made history.

Under Green's tutelage, Taumalolo became the best forward in the world.  (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Green was the one who, at the end of the previous season, switched Jason Taumalolo from second row to the lock. In doing so he created a monster the NRL still hasn't worked out how to stop. Taumalolo was mighty that fateful night, running for more metres than any other Cowboy, and he's gone on to become the greatest forward of his time.

By the time he's done, he'll have a case to being the best ever. None of that happens if Green doesn't make the change in the first place.

Green made the tough call early in the season of dropping Rory Kostjasyn, who had been brought north from Melbourne to fill the void the Cowboys had at hooker ever since club legend Aaron Payne retired.

Kostjasyn had been the dummy half the year before and let nobody down, but Green benched him for Jake Granville who, at 26-years-old with ten NRL games under his belt, was supposed to have missed the boat.

Green knew what he had after coaching Granville during a Wynnum-Manly premiership run years before and the diminutive rake was superb all season, with his speed off the mark giving North Queensland an extra attacking edge, and he set up two tries in the grand final.

Michael Morgan had become a star the previous season at fullback, where he excelled for most of the year, but Green moved him as well.

After a slow start to the year, Morgan went back into the halves and Lachlan Coote, who missed the entire 2014 campaign with a knee injury, was in at the back.

Coote's kicking game and smarts freed up Morgan to create as he saw fit and the two of them complimented Granville and Thurston beautifully.

Instead of everything beginning and ending with Thurston, all of a sudden the dragon had four heads and each of them had different attacking gifts, which took the team to another level with ball in hand.

Coote and Morgan both played their part all year and again in the decider, with Morgan setting up the last-second try for Kyle Feldt that will be replayed for as long as this sport exists.

Feldt might not have even been there if Green hadn't had the courage to change a winning team late in the season.

North Queensland was a team built from the inside out on a belief that a great forward pack, a terrific spine and a solid backline would be enough.

Antonio Winterstein, Kane Linnett and Justin O'Neill were all tough and strong and capable, but you'd be hard-pressed to call them gamebreakers.

But Feldt was different to the rest, he could turn a match for better and sometimes for worse with his athletic gifts and penchant for big plays that could break for or against his team. He started the year in the firsts but was dropped because his defence wasn't up to scratch.

For 21 weeks Feldt sat in reserve grade before Green recalled him two weeks before the finals and it was Feldt, who has that special knack for creating brilliance that other players lack, who stripped the ball from Anthony Milford and then Ben Hunt in the final minute when the cause seemed lost and dotted down 64 seconds later.

And Green even found something extra in Thurston, the greatest player the club will ever have. It's easy to think a player of Thurston's quality, of his brilliance and irrepressible desire to compete and fight and win, coaches himself, and to a certain extent he did.

But the secret isn't getting the best out of Thurston – he was such a great player he was always going to find a way to do that himself – it's putting the right pieces in place around him and getting the best out them and no other coach in Thurston's career did that like Green.

On their own, all these decisions are little things. You can't pinpoint one and say it's the move that won the Cowboys the title.

But when you add them all up, that's what makes the difference between winning and losing, between winning it all and coming up short. What feels like destiny after the fact can't be created overnight, it happens bit by bit and step by step. Grand finals are won on the night, but premierships are won along the way.

Taumalolo doesn't have that blinder, Granville doesn't set up those tries, Feldt doesn't make those plays, Morgan doesn't throw that pass and Thurston doesn't win the game if not for Green and what he did for them as players and for the team as a whole.

And when all of North Queensland celebrated in 2015, it was because of what Paul Green had built. Not every call was his because a premiership has many fathers, but as head coach Green wears the credit when it works and the blame when it doesn't and that season everything worked. All the pieces fit.

North Queensland can only win a premiership for the first time once.  (Getty Images: Ian Hitchcock)

Green never won another premiership. His efforts in piloting a Thurston-less Cowboys side to the grand final from eighth spot in 2017 might be a better feat of raw coaching, but 2015 was his masterpiece.

And if you remember the scenes from afterwards, when the Cowboys returned home as conquering heroes and they took the trophy all around the place, to Mt Isa and Hughenden, Cairns and Mackay, Cloncurry and Normanton and Proserpine, and all those other places way up there where they love the Cowboys so much so they could prove that it was real and not just a dream they saw on their television screens, that it really happened, that Paul Green's boys had done it, you'll know exactly what that all meant.

The north will always remember those Cowboys, that season, that night and that game and those moments. It means so much to them, and to everyone who watched what was perhaps the greatest grand final ever played, and it doesn't happen without Paul Green. He gave so much to so many. 

That run to glory and history, that grand final win that was less of a football game and more of a life experience wasn't a destiny fulfilled, not was it something that was fated to happen — it was man-made, a dream Paul Green hammered into reality. 

North Queensland will never forget what he gave them, the priceless gift of a seemingly impossible dream coming. How could they? You can only win for the first time once. It can't happen that way ever again. 

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