The State of Origin-depleted Toyota Cowboys had their three-game winning streak ended in Canberra today when the Raiders scored a 42-12 victory in their round 11 NRL clash at GIO Stadium.
Minus their four Origin players, plus the injured Gavin Cooper and Cameron King, the Cowboys were outscored seven tries to two in front of just over 8,000 fans.
NQ were in the game when they trailed by six early in the second half following a Curtis Rona try but the Raiders scored the last four tries to secure their first win in a month and reverse their round one loss to the Cowboys at 1300SMILES Stadium.
The Cowboys were forced into six changes to their team that beat the Roosters last start after losing four players – Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, James Tamou and Brent Tate – to State of Origin selection and another two – Gavin Cooper and Cameron King – to long-term injury.
Into the 17 came Curtis Rona, Ray Thompson, Jason Taumalolo, Joel Riethmuller, Anthony Mitchell and Ricky Thorby, Rona and Thompson starting in their return from injury.
There was one change to the Raiders team named on Tuesday, with Shannon Boyd coming on to the bench for Matt McIlwrick, while Mitch Cornish made his debut off the bench.
A steady start from the Cowboys gained a reward in the 19th minute thanks to the strong running of back-rower Ethan Lowe, who seized a pass from Robert Lui and carried Raiders halfback Josh McCrone over the line from 10 metres out.
Lowe converted his try to give NQ a 6-0 lead with the Raiders rarely threatening as they struggled to finish off a set of six.
Canberra’s hit-back came six minutes later on the back of a penalty – one of eight the home team received in the opening 40.
The dangerous Anthony Milford came in from fullback to throw the last pass for Jack Wighton to stretch out and score.
Croker added the conversion to even up at 6-all.
The strength of Raiders forward Paul Vaughan gave Canberra their second try and the lead for the first time.
He took a Terry Campese offload eight metres out and managed to carry two NQ defenders over the line, crashing over under the crossbar.
With eight left in the half, the home team led 12-6.
Their advantage jumped to eight when Croker added two following a tackle that ended up with Tariq Sims on report.
The biggest blow, however, was yet to come for North Queensland, who surrendered a third try on the final play of the half.
After the siren sounded, Wighton finished off a raid to the right for his second try of the half.
Milford, Campese and Sami Sauiluma had combined on the previous tackle to propel the Raiders 50 metres, deep into the Cowboys’ half.
NQ had the start they wanted to the second 40, eating into the Raiders’ lead five minutes after the restart thanks to Curtis Rona.
The video referees overturned the on-field call, ruling the rookie winger had managed to ground the ball as he was surrounded by Raiders defenders.
Lowe nailed the conversion from the sideline but the deficit was back in double figures almost immediately, Campese breaking clear to set up back-rower Jarrad Kennedy.
The next chance came the Cowboys’ way after they forced two goal-line dropouts with eager defence heading towards the midway point of the half.
They nearly cashed in with Antonio Winterstein going awfully close to grounding a Robert Lui grubber kick.
The on-field ruling of 'no try' was confirmed after reviews upstairs.
The Cowboys’ task became even more difficult when Reece Robinson stepped inside two defenders close to the line for the home team’s fifth try.
It followed NQ’s fourth incomplete set on the half, an error rate that allowed the increasingly confident home team to get the roll on they needed to seize control of the contest.
The Raiders ended with a rush to put an even bigger dent in the Cowboys’ for and against record, which had been the best in the NRL at the start of the day.
Croker climbed to take a high ball in the 75th minute and Milford raced away to finish off a Wighton break in the 78th.
Ethan Lowe topped NQ’s tackle count with 36, while Scott Bolton, who was troubled by a shoulder injury, topped the metres-gained count with 124m.
COWBOYS: 1 Michael Morgan, 2 Curtis Rona, 3 Matthew Wright, 4 Kane Linnett, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Robert Lui, 7 Ray Thompson, 8 Scott Bolton, 9 Rory Kostjasyn, 10 Ashton Sims, 11 Ethan Lowe, 15 Glenn Hall, 13 Tariq Sims. Interchange: 12 Jason Taumalolo, 14 Anthony Mitchell, 16 Ricky Thorby, 17 Joel Riethmuller.
RAIDERS: 1 Anthony Milford, 2 Reece Robinson, 3 Jarrod Croker, 4 Jack Wighton, 5 Sami Sauiluma, 6 Terry Campese (c), 7 Josh McCrone, 8 David Shillington, 9 Glen Buttriss, 10 Brett White, 11 Jarrad Kennedy, 12 Joel Edwards, 13 Shaun Fensom, 14 Mitch Cornish, 16 Paul Vaughan, 17 Dane Tilse, 18 Shannon Boyd.
COWBOYS 12 - Ethan Lowe, Curtis Rona tries; Ethan Lowe 2 goals
RAIDERS 42 - Jack Wighton 2, Paul Vaughan, Jarrad Kennedy, Reece Robinson, Jarrod Croker, Anthony Milford tries; Jarrod Croker 7 goals