A hat-trick to Canberra winger Michael Oldfield has helped keep his team's slim finals chances alive as they thumped the North Queensland Cowboys 38-12 at GIO Stadium on Saturday night.
The victory puts the ninth-placed Raiders within two wins of the top eight. The Broncos [seventh] and Warriors [eighth] play on Sunday, which means one of those clubs will be in Canberra's sights over the coming weeks.
Oldfield's night out was highlighted by a 90-metre run for his third try, which sealed the win for the home side in front of 11,470 fans as temperatures reached -4 degrees.
The victory was soured by a serious injury to Canberra captain Jarrod Croker, who limped off in the 30th minute after dislocating his left knee cap. Five-eighth Aidan Sezer took over the goal kicking duties.
North Queensland created opportunities in attack but weren't able to convert when they had the chance as a poor completion rate - 26 from 36 sets - haunted them. In contrast Canberra enjoyed an 86 per cent completion rate, or 31 from 36 sets.
Canberra winger Jordan Rapana showed no signs of the hamstring injury that kept him out of action for three weeks, as he soared to claim a cross-field kick in just the third minute before acrobatically putting the ball down to open the Raiders score sheet.
Match: Raiders v Cowboys
Round 18 -
Venue: GIO Stadium
- LIVE PASS
Croker was denied the extras by the ball hitting the upright as the Raiders jumped out to an early 4-0 lead.
The home side suffered a scare when Croker's left knee buckled in the seventh minute, despite limping a little, the skipper remained on the field.
Off the back of a kick out on the full from the Cowboys, Croker showed quick hands to send Michael Oldfield across in the corner to make it 8-0 after 11 minutes.
North Queensland hooker Jake Granville split the Raiders up at the middle in the 20th minute before finding Te Maire Martin, who in turn linked with Lachlan Coote to end a 30-metre movement. The Cowboys narrowed the lead to just two points.
Croker's night was over in the 30th minute when he collapsed untouched as he chased through a kick into the in-goal, with Blake Austin called into the game earlier than expected.
The super-sub from the week before was at it again as Austin grounded a grubber kick under the nose of Kyle Feldt in the 32nd minute.
Sezer slotted the extras as the home side eased out to an eight-point buffer leading up to half-time.
However, Canberra gifted the away side an attacking chance off the restart, after Elliott Whitehead let the ball bounce out.
North Queensland did not have to be asked twice and scored through Gavin Cooper off the back of a clever Jonathan Thurston grubber to see them trail 14-12 at the break.
It was Thurston's last game at GIO Stadium and after the fulltime siren he shared a few words and a hug with his former Test coach Ricky Stuart.
The Cowboys' completion rate continued to hover around 60 per cent early in the second half as errors late in the tackle count limited their chances to build pressure.
Josh Papalii continued his strong game and looked close to scoring before being held up by some desperate Cowboys defence on their line.
Rapana was ruled to have knocked-on in making a jamming tackle allowing the visitors to continue to apply the blowtorch.
However, with their season on the line Canberra continued to work hard and held firm in defence.
Oldfield grabbed a double soon after Coote bobbled a Sam William grubber, with the fortuitous bounce landing in the Canberra winger's arms.
Sezer added the extras from out wide and Canberra earned a vital eight-point buffer [20-12] with 14 minutes remaining.
Oldfield all but sealed the game with 10 minutes remaining, after he sliced through some soft Cowboys defence to streak 90 metres and give the home side a 14-point lead.
Rapana and then Sezer scored within six minutes of each other in the final 10 minutes allowing the Raiders a grand stand finish.
News & Notes: The Raiders have won five of their past seven games at GIO Stadium... North Queensland was aiming for a 250th NRL win...Cowboys forward Shane Wright had his first NRL start having played two games off teh bench ... next week the Raiders travel to Cronulla to play the Sharks, while the Cowboys are back home in Townsville to face St George-Illawarra ... Crowd: 11,471