CANBERRA produced the most dominant half of football from any side this season to record their first win of the season 23-18 against out-of-sorts North Queensland.
But they almost blew a second-half lead for the third time in 2009, the Cowboys drawing within four points in a dramatic finale.
The Raiders enjoyed a massive 67 per cent of possession in the opening stanza to lead 20-6 and were similarly impressive for the first 20 minutes of the second half – but they very nearly paid the price for their inability to turn dominance into points.
A John Williams try against the run of play in the 59th minute closed the gap to eight and Ben Farrar gave the visitors a sniff when he cut the deficit to just four with four minutes remaining before a Terry Campese field-goal all but sealed a Raiders victory.
It would have been a tough pill for the home side to swallow however after they steamrolled North Queensland early on.
It took just six minutes for Nigel Plum to open the scoring and by the 15-minute mark Canberra had opened up a 14-0 lead at nearly a point per minute.
The Cowboys didn’t help their cause either with some schoolboy errors.
Halfback Johnathan Thurston began the rot by failing to find touch from an early penalty; Matt Bowen spilled a pass from a scrum that saw Raiders winger Jarrod Croker pick up the dregs and score; and from the kick-off they booted the ball dead to hand Canberra possession yet again (and their third try).
Canberra’s win saw them draw level with North Queensland on two points and leaves premiers Manly as the only winless side after four rounds.
The Game Swung When… Johnathan Thurston kicked the ball out on the full from a penalty with his side down 6-0.
That mistake eventually led to Canberra’s second try and was the first of a series of catastrophic errors that had the match just about over by half-time.
Who Was Hot… Canberra’s halves – Terry Campese and Marc Herbert – caused all sorts of problems in the first 40 but it was their forwards that really set the Cowboys on the back foot.
Former Rooster David Shillington showed what a valuable buy he will be this season while Tom Learoyd-Lahrs was devastating off the bench.
Luke O’Donnell was a standout for the visitors.
Who Was Not: It was a nightmare outing for North Queensland’s two biggest stars – Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen.
Thurston failed to find touch from a penalty and kicked the ball dead on the full from a kick-off in the first-half as Canberra ran riot, while Bowen dropped the ball on his own goal-line for the Raiders to score their second try of the evening.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed: So brilliant are Thurston and Bowen at their best that it almost defied belief to see a series of disastrous and basic errors in such a short space of time.
Coach Neil Henry must be scratching his head after leaving Canberra for a North Queensland side that were considered top-four contenders at the start of the season.
Injuries… Nigel Plum (Raiders) – ribs, indefinite; Trevor Thurling (Raiders) – ankle, six weeks.
Refs Watch… There will be more focus on the new law protecting kickers after yet another contentious call, this time against Steve Southern for a seemingly innocuous hit on Terry Campese.
Southern hit the Raiders playmaker as he kicked the ball downfield but was penalised by referee Steve Lyons, Canberra kicking a penalty goal as a result to extend their second-half lead to 22-18.
NRL.com Best & Fairest... 3 points – David Shillington (Raiders): Set the tone early for the Raiders, running for 114 metres and putting his side on the front foot; 2 points – Terry Campese (Raiders): Controlled the game well, kicking for 267 metres and setting up Canberra’s third try; 1 point – Tom Learoyd-Lahrs (Raiders): Made a huge impact off the bench as the Cowboys struggled to contain his massive frame.
Raiders 23 (N Plum, J Croker, A Purtell, J Picker tries; T Campese 3 goals; T Campese field-goal) def Cowboys 18 (T Burns, J Williams, B Farrar tries; J Thurston 3 goals) at Canberra Stadium. Crowd: 12,193.