In a return to football we are having a rare home game for the Cowboys to open their season. It will be warm and it will be humid and how this impacts on the players could be the determining factor between two of the most exciting sides in this year’s competition. Many a time the Cowboys have headed down to the frosty capital in the dead of winter, now they get to show the Raiders why it is so nice to spend your Summers in Queensland.

LAST TIME OUT

The two losing Preliminary Finalists will face off in the Could-have-been Grand Final, but I doubt that will feature to heavily in this seasons discussions. Both sides lost matches, Raiders by 2 and Cowboys by 12, and that in the finals will always hurt, but neither team faced each other, and both lost to each of the Grand Finalists during the finals series. But the off-season has intervened, and it does not matter where you finished even when you both were in the top four.

Now we will see the Raiders head north for the thirty-eighth clash. Since 2010 they have battled it out 13 times with the Cowboys hosting 6 times and taking six wins in those clashes. The Cowboys are leading the recent contests 9 to 4 overall but the Raiders lead in the history with 21 over 16.

The Raiders are coming off their best season in recent history. They finished second on the ladder and players like Aaron Woods have them as the team to beat. Their outside backs and their ability to extend plays make them hard to defend against for the full 80 minutes and this is why they are in every top eight in the media.

The Cowboys are no slouches, they followed up their premiership season with a strong fourth on the ladder, and will be fielding a side with only James Tamou as the big name change to the run-on side, and the Polar Bear Ben Hannant being sadly missed off the bench. These changes give the chance for a number of players to make their mark. Scott Bolton will be running on with the prop jersey number on his back, and with one of the best youth squads to source a backline from, names such as Ponga and Gela Mosby will be well-known soon enough.

KEY BATTLE

The focus of this contest will be between the halves. Thurston/Morgan vs Sezer/Austin will be the source of most of this games excitement and even though history at the venue favours the locals, they will not be allowing themselves to be caught unaware of the threat that Canberra represents. Watching last year’s games, the observer would have seen similarities between the runs from Morgan and Blake Austin. The creation of space directly in the defensive line is a huge advantage for the attackers and both sides enjoy exploiting this. The loss of Jarrod Croker, thanks to a pre-season injury, may be the difference as he was frequently mentioned in dispatches when the next phase of play developed for the Raiders.

PREDICTION

A home game is a win required for every team aiming for a high finish. Win your 13 at home and you are on track for the finals. As regular attendees in the post-season, the Cowboys are aware of this and have an excellent record at home in recent seasons. The fortress that is Smiles Stadium is an advantage and with a hot, humid night sapping the visitors who are not as used to these conditions leads the reasoning behind my selection of the Cowboys for a seven point win. Close for the first hour, but the final 20 will be favouring the locals.

SQUADS

Note: 21 man squad named Tuesday,
17 man squad + 2 reserve players 24hrs before kickoff,
Squad named 1 hour before kickoff.

 

North Queensland Cowboys v Canberra Raiders at 1300SMILES Stadium, 7pm (AEDT) Saturday

Cowboys: 1. Lachlan Coote 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O’Neill 4. Kane Linnett 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. Michael Morgan 7. Johnathan Thurston 8. Matthew Scott 9. Jake Granville 10. Scott Bolton 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Ethan Lowe 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Ben Hampton 15. John Asiata 16. Coen Hess 17. Patrick Kaufusi 18. Sam Hoare 19. Gideon Gela-Mosby 20. Javid Bowen 21. Kalyn Ponga

Raiders: 1. Jack Wighton 2. Nick Cotric 3. Elliot Whitehead 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Blake Austin 7. Aidan Sezer 8. Clay Priest 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Shannon Boyd 11. Josh Papalii 12. Iosia Soliola 13. Luke Bateman 14. Adam Clydsdale 15. Dunamis Lui 16. Jeff Lima 17. Joseph Tapine 18. Scott Sorenson 19. Zac Santo 20. Makahesi Makatoa 21. Lachlan Croker