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Canberra Raiders v North Queensland Cowboys
Canberra Stadium
Monday 7pm

The rejuvenated Raiders will be looking for revenge after butchering their last encounter with the Cowboys in sensational circumstances in a game that also saw Terry Campese suffer his season-ending injury back in June last year.

Canberra enter this clash delicately poised in seventh spot on the NRL ladder – just one differential point ahead of the North Queenslanders, with each side experiencing contrasting fortunes last week.

The Raiders overcame a 10-12 halftime deficit against the Wests Tigers in Campbelltown, running away with the contest with three second-half tries for a deserved 30-16 win. Captain Campese was their star, so much so much of the week’s headlines have been devoted to singing his praises as the likely NSW Origin pivot.  

Meanwhile the Cowboys raced to a 10-2 lead over the Sharks in Townsville last Saturday night, with tries to Gavin Cooper and Ashley Graham in the first 23 minutes seemingly laying a sound foundation for victory. But the home side were out-enthused by a Sharks unit that planted the Steeden under their arms (just two offloads all night) and got the job done in the second stanza. Worryingly it was the Cowboys’ second loss at home from three games – and this week they head to a venue that has only been kind to them on three of 14 occasions!

Meanwhile Raiders mentor David Furner, under pressure heading into 2012, is breathing a little easier after the Green Machine’s spirited opening to the season. They are the only side to trouble the Storm, falling to the competition leaders only in the dying stages in Round 1, while last week’s victory indicated they have courage and commitment when the chips are down.

Test prop David Shillington is out after failing to recover in time from a torn oblique (chest) muscle, while Dane Tilse retuns to the side. Also, lock Josh Papalii, who limped off with a thigh injury last Monday is expected to take his place. Jarrad Kennedy has been added to the interchange in the Raiders’ only line-up change.

Meanwhile Cowboys co-captain Matthew Scott will miss at least a fortnight of football after tearing ligaments in his foot last Saturday; his spot in the starting line-up has been taken by Ashton Sims, with Ricky Thorby joining the interchange bench.

Watch Out Raiders: The Cowboys are really taking advantage of their blistering speed out wide – fullback Matt Bowen and winger Ashley Graham each have five tries, to rank equal third on the try-scoring list. Bowen has already made four line-breaks.

And while the Raiders possess a formidable forward pack there’s not many bigger props than the Cowboys’ James Tamou running around. The Kiwi is one of the form front-rowers of 2012 and is currently averaging career-high numbers in runs (15), metres (132), tackles (29) and minutes played (51.5).

The Raiders’ left-side defenders need to brace themselves for an assault from Johnathan Thurston, Brent Tate, Matt Bowen and Ashley Graham: the Cowboys have crossed for eight tries down the right side compared to five on the left, and the Raiders are most vulnerable on their left side of the field having conceded seven tries compared to just two on their right edge.

Danger Sign: The Raiders should expect the unexpected, especially from Bowen. His dab kick from dummy-half for Ashley Graham to score last week came from absolutely nothing.

Also, if rookie Jason Taumalolo hits the right edge often you’ll know Neil Henry thinks the Raiders are ripe for the taking – the 18-year-old was devastating against the Eels in Round 3 (two line-breaks and eight tackle busts). He could hold the key to the outcome.

Watch Out Cowboys: Origin hopeful Terry Campese is in irresistible form, and there’s no-one better at putting a team-mate through a gap than the Raiders pivot. He leads all players for line-break assists (with seven) – and they’ve all come from passes. Also, he ranks second for try assists (five) behind Storm No.7 Cooper Cronk. It was Campese who put Josh McCrone and Jarrod Croker away for four-pointers last week and he’ll be looking for his first taste of victory over the Cowboys at home since August 2010 when he was a massive contributor to their 48-4 win with two try assists, two line-break assists, plus a line-break himself.

Raiders fans will have their fingers crossed David Shillington makes it onto the park – his 71 hit-ups are the third most by a forward.

Danger Sign: The Cowboys really need to watch their handling and not push the plays – they are making the most errors of all sides, with 15.2 mistakes every 80 minutes seriously affecting their ability to build pressure.

Jarrod Croker v Brent Tate: Croker has used his scintillating pace to great effect so far, scoring five tries to rank second on the NRL try-scorer’s list. Plus, his 23 tackle busts are third most overall – and the most by any centre. He carved up the Tigers, making 10 tackle busts and two line-breaks from just nine runs. Here he goes up against one of the best defensive centres in the game: Tate’s average 20 tackles are third most among recognised centres – and he is the most effective, with no ineffective tackles to date and just one miss per week.

Where It Will Be Won: Defence will determine the victor. Both sides are pretty steely at the moment – the Cowboys’ 25 tackle misses are fifth fewest, the Raiders’ 26 the sixth fewest – so whichever defence maintains their good standards should be knocking on the till.

The History: Played 28; Raiders 18, Cowboys 10. The Cowboys may have won six of the past eight clashes but the road trip to the nation’s capital has not been kind to them over the years – they have won just three of 14 games played at Canberra Stadium. (In saying that, two of those have been achieved in their past three games in the ACT.)

The Last Time They Met: The Cowboys staged a remarkable comeback to run away with the contest 40-24 in Canberra in Round 13 last year – in the game that Terry Campese added his sole 10 minutes of game time in 2012 before succumbing to a groin injury.

Remarkably the Raiders scored four tries in the opening 21 minutes for a 22-nil lead that had some Cowboys’ fans filing for the exits – but then the Raiders lost fullback Josh Dugan to injury (26th minute) and the visitors exploded to life. First Johnathan Thurston dummied his way over on the left edge, then Glenn Hall ran through Campese, whose groin gave way as he attempted to tackle Hall on his try line.

Tries to Tariq Sims either side of halftime saw the Cowboys draw level at 22-all before a Jarrod Croker penalty goal edged the home side ahead with 14 minutes to play. But a poor last-tackle option from the Raiders saw Thurston swoop on an errant ball and send Kalifa Faifai Loa away for a long-distance try that broke their backs. Faifai Loa rubbed salt into the wounds with two more tries in the dying minutes.

The Raiders really missed Dugan, who set up two tries before his injury. They were also well served by prop Brett White who added 165 metres.

Tariq Sims was the standout for the Cowboys with a try double and a try assist plus 126 metres, three line-breaks and eight tackle busts.

Match Officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Brenden Wood; Video Referee – Steve Clarke.

The Way We See It: Given their positions on the ladder – 7th and 8th – this could be a game that one side reflects on as the ‘one that got away’ when the top eight is finalised. The Raiders were courageous against the Tigers – but they were given a leg-up by a woeful opponent and it’s unlikely the Cowboys will slump to 42 missed tackles here.

This game could swing either way. Thurston was kept quiet last week and it’s unlikely that will occur two weeks running. Campese? No doubting his talent but we’ll need to see it on a consistent basis before we consider the Raiders a premiership threat.

We’ll pump for the Cowboys in a high-scoring, entertaining affair. North Queensland by six points.

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 7pm.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats

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