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Cowboys v Raiders PREVIEW preview: Cowboys v Raiders

Johnathan Thurston didn't mind telling Greg Alexander he was being too harsh on teammate Michael Morgan during a live post-match cross to JT after last week's drought-busting home win over Gold Coast.

'Brandy' should've known Thurston wasn't going to be too agreeable to anything he suggested after recently questioning the Cowboys legend's desire in his 15th NRL season.

Thurston, 35 on Wednesday, was polite but had a definite sharpness about his reply. He probably felt his team silenced a few detractors with the comfortable win over the Titans, but it was just one game and it's too early to tell if the slump is over.

The Cowboys will be straight back to the drawing board if they lose at home to the inconsistent Raiders, who were thrashed by the Rabbitohs last week.

North Queensland Cowboys v Canberra Raiders, 7.35pm Saturday at 1300SMILES Stadium

Cowboys: 1 Lachlan Coote, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Justin O'Neill, 4 Ben Hampton, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Michael Morgan, 7 Johnathan Thurston (c), 8 Matthew Scott (c), 9 Jake Granville, 10 Scott Bolton, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Coen Hess, 13 Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: 14 Te Maire Martin, 15 Shaun Fensom, 16 Corey Jensen, 17 Ethan Lowe, Reserves: 18 Francis Molo, 19 Jake Clifford, 20 Enari Tuala, 21 Sam Hoare.

Shaun Fensom last week played his first game back from a long lay-off after breaking his leg in the 2017 grand final and this week comes straight into the Cowboys 17 in place of bench forward John Asiata.

Raiders: 1 Jack Wighton, 2 Nick Cotric, 3 Jarrod Croker (c), 4 Joseph Leilua, 5 Jordan Rapana, 6 Blake Austin, 7 Aidan Sezer, 8 Iosia Soliola, 9 Siliva Havili, 10 Junior Paulo, 11 Joseph Tapine, 12 Elliott Whitehead, 13 Josh Papalii. Interchange: 14 Ata Hingano, 15 Shannon Boyd, 16 Luke Bateman, 17 Dunamis Lui. Reserves: 18 Liam Knight, 19 Michael Oldfield, 20 Bradley Abbey, 21 Jack Murchie.

Josh Papalii moves into the starting lock role with Luke Bateman shifting to the bench.

Key match-up: Thurston showed he was getting his rhythm back last week and will be looking forward to his clash with Aidan Sezer. The Raiders were well off the pace for most of last week's heavy loss to the Rabbitohs and will be relying on Sezer to provide decisive direction around the park and a strong kicking game.

For the Cowboys to win: JT and Paul Green tell us Morgan's performances haven't been as ordinary as they seem, but he just doesn't have the same zest that was on display throughout last year's finals series. If Morgan plays like Morgan can on Saturday, the Raiders might be in for a long trip home from Townsville.

For the Raiders to win: Maybe they simply ran into a red-hot Rabbitohs last week but it remains to be seen if they are nursing a few psychological scars. If Ricky Stuart can convince his side that the real Raiders showed up in wins over Canterbury and Parramatta, a rare victory in Cowboys country is not out of the question.

Cowboys stat attack: Winger Kyle Feldt has scored five tries in his past four games, but the Cowboys have been unusually poor at home, winning two of their past seven in Townsville. On a better note, they have won 10 of their past 13 clashes with Canberra.

Raiders stat attack: Hoodoos are there to be broken and the Raiders will be hoping to end a nightmare of a streak that dates back to 2006. That was when the Green Machine last tasted victory on the Cowboys' home ground.

And another thing: While Wayne Bennett doesn't always come across as the happiest bloke in the world, it's refreshing to have an open and engaging coach in the NRL like Paul Green. The Cowboys have a battle on their hands to get back into premiership reckoning, but Green never looks or sounds like he's feeling any pressure. He exudes a quiet confidence, almost like he knows his team will be right in the thick of it when the playoffs arrive.

Head-to-head: Played 39; Raiders 21 wins, Cowboys 18 wins
Matches at venue: Played 19; Cowboys 12 wins, Raiders 7 wins
2017 results: Cowboys won 20-16 at 1300Smiles Stadium in round 1 and 31-18 at GIO Stadium in round 17
Points per game: Cowboys 16.6; Raiders 22.4
Points conceded per game: Cowboys 23.4; Raiders 23.7
Televised: Live on Fox League

Steve Turner's prediction: The Cowboys did enough last weekend to register their second win of 2018 and while I think they're a fair way off their best, the Raiders who are yet to win away from home this year will find the trip to Townsville very difficult. Canberra have not won in North Queensland since 2006 and I don't see Ricky Stuart's men claiming their third victory of the season this weekend. Cowboys by 12.

Acknowledgement of Country

North Queensland Cowboys respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.