Awards night delights

15 Nov 2023

House awards full replay

The academic, cultural and sporting achievements of more than 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island secondary school students from some of Australia’s most remote communities have been recognised at the annual NRL Cowboys House awards and graduation ceremony.

The efforts and achievements of the year 7-12 cohort, including 17 graduating students, was celebrated by families and community members, school community members, partners, supporters, staff and students on campus in Townsville and joining on live stream.

The event was a culmination of a 2023 school year defined by new faces, experiences, challenges and change guided by the NRL Cowboys House values of family, integrity and resilience.

Speaking at Tuesday’s awards ceremony, NRL Cowboys House General Manager Rochelle Jones paid tribute to the students’ diligence, bravery and perseverance.

“Hard work has been shown by many of our students through their academic achievements, and it brings great joy to us all when they return from school with a proud smile and the news of how well they’ve done on an exam or assignment,” she said.

“I also acknowledge the resilience and bravery of all our students and particularly our families, as education and boarding adds an extra challenge to their lives and they all work so hard to nurture our future leaders.

“As we prepare to say goodbye to our graduates we thank everyone who has made a difference to the lives of our young people this year, as we wish our 2023 graduates all the best for what lies ahead.”

Tuesday night’s event was hosted by Year 11 students Bruce Baudu (Thursday Island) and Makeilla Gibson (Cooktown) and saw the return of five past students for a live Q&A about life since graduating from NRL Cowboys House.

Continuing a strong tradition, the Year 12 graduating students each received a special North Queensland Toyota Cowboys Indigenous jersey with their name and boarding number on the back, featuring artist Renee Wilson’s ‘Mundarlbi’ design.

The awards night follows a school year which has seen a number of exciting highlights for students across all year levels.

The NRL Cowboys House Dance troupe, which has seen increased female participation, performed alongside Miriki Performing Arts at Cairns Festival, Murama Youth Summit in Sydney, Jezzine Barracks in Townsville and the Pacific Championships at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

The annual NAIDOC Day celebration in September united everyone under the theme, ‘For Our Elders’, with elders travelling from community to share stories and culture with students and attendees soaking in their knowledge and learning new skills.

A focus on the arts throughout 2023 has also seen students use different mediums to learn more about themselves and their culture through programs like the Young Indigenous Printmakers.

Cowboys Community Foundation Director Jeff Reibel said that opportunity through collaboration was a highlight.

“2023 has been a year of growth for our football club, the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys, which has meant new opportunities as we work together in our goal of removing distance as a barrier to education,” he said.

“With the commencement of our inaugural NRLW program this year, we were delighted to introduce Tahlulah Tillett as a player ambassador, taking her place in the House family alongside Reuben Cotter and of course House parent Sareka Mooka.

“It’s been a real pleasure to see how these players have embraced the opportunity to mentor and inspire the young men and women boarding at the House and encouraged them to reach for greatness.

“I always enjoy hearing the stories of our students, many kilometres from their families and home communities, coming out of their shell to grow and learn under the guidance of these leaders.”

NRL Cowboys House celebrated its first four inspirational graduates in 2019, before honouring 17 graduates in 2020, 13 graduates in 2021, 17 graduates in 2022 and now a further 17 in 2023.

The event was streamed live online, with a recording available at

NRL Cowboys House provides supported accommodation and wraparound support for more than 100 young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students accessing quality secondary education in Townsville.

The House works in partnership with 11 local schools to provide opportunities for education, employment and further education for geographically-disadvantaged Year 7-12 students from remote communities, supporting students to positively transition from secondary education into adulthood.

Managed by the Cowboys Community Foundation, the charity arm of the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys, NRL Cowboys House is a joint initiative between the National Rugby League, North Queensland Cowboys, the Queensland Government and the Australian Government.

NRL COWBOYS HOUSE 2023 GRADUATES: Ruhkoa Ahmat-Nona (Badu Island), Samjoe Baragud (Yam Island), Kylorren Beetham-Kepa (Yam Island), Steph Bob (Warraber Island), Kelly Dalton (Normanton), David Foster-King (Doomadgee), Kairon Hudson (Weipa), Isaiah Kepa (Yam Island), Wyatt Lourigan (Mossman), Leland Michael (Cooktown), Shontay Mick (Doomadgee), Coralie Mundraby (Normanton), Bobby Naawi (Moa Island), Desharnthie Nona (Warraber Island), Cooper Pearson (Yarrabah), Connor Rogers (Mornington Island), Ariel Tapim-Wailu (Murray Island).