Six Toyota Cowboys celebrated their NYC debuts by figuring in a 42-26 win against Canberra in the season opener at 1300SMILES Stadium tonight.
Seeking a return to the finals for the first time since 2011, the North Queenslanders played well in spurts, and carelessly in others, to see off the club that finished as under-20s minor premiers last season.
They had to play the bulk of the 80 minutes without forward leader Patrick Kaufusi, who suffered a pectoral injury in the first half and was unable to return.
Coach Todd Wilson handed debuts to four starters – winger Scott Schulte, halves Delayne Ashby and James Redman and hooker Josh Chudleigh – as well as bench forwards Bill Cullen and Viliame Kikau.
After the Cowboys had the better chances in the opening stages, it was the Raiders who struck first via right winger Leu Saipani.
However the visitors’ lead didn’t last long with the impressive Kaufusi bringing his 2013 form into the new year by barging over three minutes later for the Cowboys’ first try of the season in the 14th minute.
North Queensland soon built on their advantage via Scott Schulte and fullback Alex Grant, who cleaned up a spilled Delayne Ashby crosskick to make it 18-4.
Centre Lenny Magey then made it four straight tries for the dominant home team, showing good strength to hold off three defenders to get the ball down on the half-hour mark.
After looking in complete control, the game surprisingly turned against the Cowboys either side of the half time break.
They blew a chance to add to their lead when a diving Hayden Crowley was unable to ground the ball in the right corner and then were unable to stop the Raiders from marching downfield to score in the 40th minute.
Canberra added another six points 60 seconds after the restart and what could have been a comfortable 26-4 scoreline in NQ’s favour was now a much more dangerous 22-14 and with the Raiders in a buoyant mood.
The Cowboys did well to reverse the trend with Grant a key figure in the revival.
He grabbed his second try to restore North Queensland’s lead to 14 and then sent Crowley over for the Cowboys’ sixth try to build the lead even further with 28 minutes left.
A third straight four-pointer – this time to interchange hooker Dan Clarke – kicked the home team further clear and although the Raiders hit back with two tries of their own, the two points were secure for Todd Wilson’s team.
Clarke even had time to snare his second 20 seconds before full time and send the Cowboys past 40 points to get their year off to a positive start.