Our best 30 in years: Campese
They may have given up a 16-point lead to a Johnathan Thurston-inspired Cowboys side but Raiders captain Terry Campese believes the opening 30 minutes by his side on Saturday night was their best in years.
There were a host of fresh faces in the Canberra side that went down 28-22 to North Queensland at 1300SMILES Stadium on Saturday night, particularly in the backline, with Jack Wighton starting at five-eighth, debutant Matthew Allwood in the centres and budding superstars Anthony Milford and Edrick Lee at fullback and on the wing.
Tries to Lee, Jarrod Croker and Josh Papalii in the opening 27 minutes stunned the parochial home crowd and came off the back of some desperate defensive work down on Canberra's own goal line. On numerous occasions the young Raiders were able to repel the Cowboys attack close to their line and Campese said that if they show greater care for possession, their exciting backline will trouble most teams.
"I thought that first 30 [minutes] was the best we've been over the past couple of years, especially playing up here in Round 1 in these conditions," Campese said. "It's a tough away trip and with our new 'spine' I thought we did well in that first 30.
"If we can hold onto that ball we'll cause some havoc throughout the year.
"If we can improve on that and complete close to 100 per cent we'll show what these young kids have got."
Milford was electrifying at both ends of the field in the opening exchanges, laying on the first try of the night for Lee with a clever move down a short blind-side, having one of his own disallowed by the video referee and then twice coming up with try-saving defensive plays, first on a rampaging Jason Taumalolo and then preventing Thurston from grounding the football minutes later.
It was a mixed night for new No.6 Wighton but coach Ricky Stuart pointed to the 60 per cent completion rate in the second half as the real reason they were unable to stem the Cowboys attack.
"Our poor completion rate in the second half just made it so much harder on our defensive work. We were very good in the first half defensively," Stuart said. "We kept turning up for each other, we were strong and or structures were very good, just a couple of freak individual pieces of play and that try [to Thurston] before half-time, that hurt us.
"And that's going to happen with such a young team, there are going to be some areas that we work harder on because of the inexperience but we need to leave the stadium very happy with the fact that we've got some real positives to bounce off and the negatives, they can be fixed.
"There's not too much there that I don't see we can't fix pretty quickly. I was really proud of our defensive efforts for most of the game, particularly turning over that much football.
"We've got a new halves combination, a new hooker-half combination and I'm happy with our performance. Disappointed with parts of our performance but overall we're taking more positives out of it than negatives."
Canberra centre Jarrod Croker relinquished the goal-kicking duties to Reece Robinson after one successful conversion due to concern over a quad injury that he has been managing for the past two weeks but it is not expected to keep him out of the Raiders' Round 2 cash with the Knights in Newcastle.