Dairy Farmers Stadium
History is against the Cowboys making a miracle run to the finals but mathematically they can still be involved in the big games at season’s end… but surely they have to win here to start the roll.
It’s been a dismal season for the boys from North Queensland but while there is hope they should still have plenty of motivation.
With just three wins at the halfway point they come up against a Raiders side on a mini-roll of their own.
Canberra have won back-to-back matches against quality opposition and they can make a statement by winning another game on the road.
In fact, such a victory could potentially see them enter the top eight and from there they would have their own destiny in their hands.
State of Origin selections have taken some meat off the bone of both sides but this should just make winning all the more sweet.
The home-side Cowboys lose Willie Tonga from the centres, which sees Will Tupou move from wing to centre, and John Williams joins the team on the wing.
Of course they are also without captain and playmaker Johnathan Thurston, which sees Grant Rovelli move from five-eighth to halfback and Michael Morgan return to the side at five-eighth.
Prop Matt Scott is with the Maroons so Carl Webb will shift from second row to prop and Willie Mason will start in the second row while Luke O’Donnell is away with the Blues so Leeson Ah Mau will start at lock.
Steve Rapira, Isaak Ah Mau and Dane Hogan have been added to the bench.
The Raiders lose Queensland prop David Shillington and New South Wales second-rower Tom Learoyd-Lahrs. This sees Scott Logan start at prop and Joe Picker start in the second row. Shaun Fensom, Adam Mogg and Danny Galea have been added to a bench of five.
Watch out Cowboys: Keep a close watch on Terry Campese, Bronson Harrison and Dane Tilse. In their pre-match homework the Raiders pinpointed a stat showing the Cowboys have conceded more tries directly from opposition offloads than any other this year (nine), giving this trio of Raiders plenty of motivation to create second-phase ball.
Campese and Tilse each have 12 offloads for the year and love to pop a pass; but it’s Harrison who is the biggest concern for the home side. With 30 offloads already this season Harrison will be licking his lips in anticipation at this game. The Cowboys need to shut him down or face problems.
Watch out Raiders: He has already been in pretty decent form this season but this game shapes as a big one for Willie Mason.
After starting from the bench the past few weeks Mason gets a chance to once again prove himself as a starter in the absence of Origin players. With an average 112 metres gained a game this year and 19 offloads, the former Test and Origin star is proving a decent buy but one gets the feeling one of his old school, out-of-the-box games isn’t far off. Yet if he’s to make a line-break or score a try, this game looks like the perfect opportunity to get off the ‘duck egg’.
If you have a lazy few dollars, get on Mason at long odds to score first or last (and when you rake in the dough, send the cheque to ‘Stats Insider, care of NRL.com’).
Where it will be won: Ball control. These two sides have certainly had their moments when it comes to hanging on to the ball. The Cowboys have tallied too many errors this season and it has well and truly proven costly, while the Raiders aren’t quite as prolific but have some of the worst timing when it comes to mistakes.
With 171 errors this season the Cowboys are by far the worst in the NRL. This averages out to over 14 errors each game – something more attuned to a local A grade side rather than an NRL premiership team.
The Raiders are also struggling, with an average of more than 13 errors a game, and in their case the extra error a game between them and the Cowboys is of negligible importance because they are often losing the pill in awful circumstances, either coming off their line or while deep in attack looking to score.
If one of these sides can actually cut down the errors and hold onto the football, they might be heading for a win rather than another frustrating loss.
The history: Played 24; Cowboys 7, Raiders 17. The Raiders have a nice, healthy lead in the overall stakes – although the Cowboys have won three of the past four games between the clubs.
Canberra also lead the head-to-head count at the venue (by 7-5); however, they haven’t won in Townsville since 2006.
Expect a close game. The average margin of victory for either team over the past eight games has been just 4.5 points. Since 2005, the Cowboys have won just five of 16 matches played in the month of June.
Conclusion: Canberra have to win this game. The Cowboys are in awful form, they are missing their big guns and their season is pretty much over.
The Raiders have a chance to start a push for the finals. They cannot sight a lack of motivation, and they have even been better on the road this year… they really should win… but don’t be surprised if they don’t.
Match officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Grant Atkins; Video Ref – Chris Ward.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.