Test prop Matt Scott says his Cowboys are braced for a physical onslaught from an injury-hit Canberra pack that Ricky Stuart will have bristling to prove a point in their NRL opener.
The Raiders are missing State of Origin front-rowers David Shillington and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs but Scott expects an almighty stoush up front in Townsville on Saturday night.
North Queensland's co-captain predicted Canberra coach Stuart will have his new team fired up to bash the highly-rated Cowboys pack and take them down a peg.
"That will be their main focus, taking us on through the middle," Scott said on Wednesday.
"We have a quality pack that gets talked about a lot also so I'd say that will be used as motivation and that's where big teams like to roll forward."
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Scott dismissed the loss of his Queensland teammate Shillington and Blues prop Learoyd-Lahrs as a worry to the visitors.
He well remembers the Raiders' physicality in last season's 26-18 loss in Canberra, when the home side ran up an 18-0 halftime lead as Josh Papalii starred.
"They're missing a couple of their more experienced front-rowers but they still have a massive pack that's played a lot of good footy," Scott said.
"Brett White and (Dane) Tilse are really good front-rowers and they're the guys who did the damage the last time we played them down there.
"I think they're very under-rated players. It's a very hard-working but big pack so it's a good challenge for us first up."
Scott revealed he, fellow Kangaroos prop James Tamou and other leading Cowboys forwards had vowed to shake off the defensive inconsistencies of recent seasons.
"We've spoken about working as a unit and trying to dominate games up the middle of the field," he said.
"That's something we've got to be more consistent at but we certainly have the talent to do so, we just have to do it.
"It's mainly a defensive focus. Defence is the area we have to improve the most."
Scott tipped talented second-rower Jason Taumalolo, who has forced Tariq Sims out of the starting pack, to come into his own this season.