OPINION: He's Quinton James Cowan but everyone in the rugby world knows him as Jimmy.
He's a quintessential southern man with a don't-mess-with-me attitude on the footie field that we love, and a passion for all things Southland, especially the Stags.
And tomorrow is a very big day for Cowan, who will become just the 11th player in Southland rugby history to have played 100 games for the province. When he takes the field against Hawke's Bay it will undoubtedly be one of the proudest moments in Cowan's stellar career, which started when he made his Southland debut against Otago way back in 2000.
And we should all celebrate the moment. Cowan deserves all our praise and recognition because he has stuck by Southland when he could have chased the bigger money and gone elsewhere, like many others before him.
A key part of Cowan's motivation was to show promising local players that you could make it to the top from Southland.
He wanted to prove that you didn't need to leave home and head to one of the leading unions to crack the All Blacks. And Cowan, having played 51 tests and having helped the All Blacks win last year's Rugby World Cup, has proved that big time. And that, as much as any try he has scored or any desperate goal-line tackle he has made, has been no small feat.
Don't believe us? Think back over the past decade or so when Southland players like Corey Flynn, Justin Marshall, Jeff Wilson and Mils Muliaina headed north and you soon realise that what Cowan has done has been pretty special and with much wider benefits than many may appreciate.
Of course, Cowan's enthusiasm and love of playing for the Stags has sometimes been a little over the top in recent seasons. He has been guilty of trying too hard in the maroon-and-gold strip but only because he was so eager to make the most of what were increasingly limited opportunities because of his All Black commitments. And in this season's NPC - perhaps because he is so desperate to go out on a high before he soon heads to Gloucester to play in the English premiership - his form for the Stags has not been what he or his fans would have liked. But he hasn't been the Lone Ranger in that regard. Has he?
Through it all, Cowan has clearly remained true to his Southland roots. He's one of us and we've loved the way he's played because he's very much been in the scrapper mould of halfbacks, with his edge being his inherent toughness and the relish he has for smashing everyone, and anyone, on defence.
Granted, off the field he's hardly been an angel and there were many times where it looked as though his talent would never be realised and that he would end up on the rugby scrapheap.
He battled issues with alcohol and struggled to appreciate the application and sense of responsibility that was needed, on and off the field.
His early All Black growing pains were very public but, to his credit, and with professional help, he managed to come through the other side and fashioned a fine career that many of his critics probably wouldn't have thought possible.
Tomorrow we should all remember that career and his contribution to Southland rugby.
It's the very least Quinton James Cowan deserves.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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