Andrew Pelechaty previews the opening game of the Easter long weekend, with Canberra hosting North Queensland …
Canberra Raiders Vs North Queensland Cowboys
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Date: Thursday April 14, 8:05pm
MATCHDAY TEAM NEWS
Related: NRL Team List TuesdayEmbed from Getty Images
Raiders: 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Nick Cotric 3. Matthew Timoko 4. Semi Valemei 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. Brad Schneider 8. Josh Papali’i 9. Tom Starling 10. Joseph Tapine 11. Corey Harawira-Naera 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Ryan Sutton 14. Xavier Savage 15. Emre Guler 16. Adam Elliott 17. Corey Horsburgh 18. Sebastian Kris 19. Hudson Young 20. Matt Frawley 21. Albert Hopoate 22. Jarrod Croker 23. Trey Mooney 24. Peter Hola
Canberra walked away with some pride intact after a better-than-expected 30-16 loss to Melbourne in Wagga Wagga. The Storm raced to an 18-2 lead after 20 minutes (including three tries in nine minutes), but The Milk stuck with Melbourne, with a try to Semi Valemei keeping them in touch at half-time (down 18-8). Canberra created plenty of chances in the second half, but poor finishing and a 67% completion rate (27/40) meant they never threatened another Titans-style miraculous comeback. If nothing else, Canberra’s attitude and effort was miles better than against Manly Warringah, where they fell apart in the second half once the Sea Eagles broke the arm wrestle.
Xavier Savage will hopefully play his first game of 2022 after being named on the bench. While Matt Timoko has been named despite last weekend’s injury worries, Jarrod Croker is on the extended bench and could cover for Timoko if needed. The Matt Frawley/Tom Starling hooker experiment seems to be over after Starling played the full 80 minutes against Melbourne. Starling is back as the starting hooker while Frawley is on the extended bench.Embed from Getty Images
Cowboys: 1. Scott Drinkwater 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Valentine Holmes 4. Peta Hiku 5. Murray Taulagi 6. Tom Dearden 7. Chad Townsend 8. Jordan McLean 9. Reece Robson 10. Coen Hess 11. Tom Gilbert 12. Jeremiah Nanai 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Jake Granville 15. Heilum Luki 16. Reuben Cotter 17. Connelly Lemuelu 18. Emry Pere 19. Brendan Elliot 20. Riley Price 21. Daejarn Asi 22. Ben Condon 23. Ben Hampton 24. Tomas Chester
After a bright start this year (for a team many predicted to finish bottom four), the Cowboys lost their second straight game last weekend. They were more competitive against the Warriors than they were against the Roosters, going try-for-try (Tom Dearden, Scott Drinkwater, Kyle Feldt, Valentine Holmes) with New Zealand and taking the game to Golden Point before Shaun Johnson’s 82nd minute field goal sunk them.
Coen Hess will return at prop and Reuben Cotter goes back to the bench. Connelly Lemuelu is the other new player on the bench. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown and Griffin Neame will miss the match due to concussion protocols.
Referee: Ashley Klein
The “quirk” of the draw (and that’s putting it nicely) means that the Raiders and Cowboys face each other for the second time in five weeks. The Cowboys belted Canberra first time around, winning 26-6 in round two. While Canberra could blame Townsville’s heat and humidity for the loss, the Cowboys were still too good, with tries to Murray Taulagi, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Kyle Feldt, and Jeremiah Nanai.
The biggest factor in this return game will be attitude: after two games in country NSW, Canberra will be grateful to return to Bruce Stadium (along with a rare Channel Nine game). While they struggled at home last season, they’ve won both their games there in 2022. The nation’s capital doesn’t hold the fears for North Queensland as it once did: their last game at Bruce (in 2019) was a 22-16 win, albeit on a Saturday afternoon in late May.
With both the Raiders and Cowboys in the 2-3 mid-table crush, a win is vital to stay in touch with the top eight (or – in the Cowboys’ case – stay in the eight). Canberra’s biggest worry is their slow starts: trailing 8-6 at half-time against the Cowboys, 22-4 against the Titans, 10-6 against Manly, and 18-8 against Melbourne. The Raiders will need to start positively, not only for their own confidence, but to bring the home fans into the game. If the Cowboys can get an early lead, Canberra’s confidence – battered by a tough few weeks – may plummet, and engineering another huge comeback will take more physical and emotional energy out of them, which will help the Cowboys claim the clean sweep over the Raiders.
And of course, the calm and level-headed Raiders fans on the Facebook supporter groups won’t completely lose their minds if Canberra have another slow start, and nobody will be calling for Ricky Stuart’s sacking for the fifth week in a row. Promise.
On a more serious note, Canberra should win this: it won’t be pretty, but they have to find a way, especially with upcoming games against Penrith, Cronulla-Sutherland, South Sydney, Parramatta, and the Sydney Roosters.Embed from Getty Images
A number of players have played for both Canberra and North Queensland – including Jason Death, Jason Ferris, John Lomax, Luke Phillips, Steve Walters, Noa Nadruku, Brett Hetherington, Ben Rauter, Rod Jensen, Jason Smith, and Shaun Fensom. A few of these were motivated by Tim Sheens moving to the Cowboys in 1997 after a triple-premiership decade with the Raiders.
In one of the biggest “what if” moments for Raiders fans, Cowboys premiership winning captain Johnathan Thurston nearly chose Bruce Stadium over Townsville. JT was a Raiders fan growing up and – according to a 2018 Sydney Morning Herald article – he came “within a pen width of signing” with Canberra.
Raiders by two.
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