Raiders v Cowboys preview
Canberra Raiders v North Queensland Cowboys
If watching a scoreboard tick over is your favourite pastime then this could be one of the games of the year.
The NRL has given us one of their finest recipes for points this Saturday with the combination of an afternoon kick-off, fine weather, a fast Canberra track and two of the top attacking sides in the competition.
No team this season has even come within 10 points of the whopping 56 that Canberra put on the Gold Coast at this ground in Round 9, and the Green Machine are the NRL's frontrunners when it comes to points scored in 2015.
The Raiders' season has swung like a pendulum over the past two months with three straight wins preceding three straight losses before their 44-22 thumping of Newcastle most recently.
Sitting in the top eight more than halfway into 2015, the trend has generally been upward for a team that was in troubled waters and seemingly without a compass at the end of last season. Coach Ricky Stuart looks to be cultivating a longed-for positivity at the club, and he has maximised a lot of the talent at his disposal.
Paul Green's Cowboys are going along very nicely despite a number of scares over their 10-game winning streak. There are areas for improvement but they are in uncharted territory by this point of the season.
Not many changes this week with Stuart running 1-17 from their Newcastle clash, while Rory Kostjasyn comes in for the injured Ray Thompson.
Watch Out Raiders: Thanks to the running power of Michael Morgan the Cowboys' right-side attack is working wonders. Points can come in a hurry for Canberra down the left, but they also leak like a sieve going the other way. Look for Thurston to switch sides of the ruck and link up with Morgan often as the visitors pepper Sam Williams, Jarrod Croker and Edrick Lee.
Watch Out Cowboys: North Queensland could be their own worst enemy on Saturday. Every win gets you closer to a loss and it seems the Cowboys may just need one to shock the complacency out of them after a 30-minute performance somehow got the job done in Parramatta. Canberra halfback Sam Williams has been a revelation lately and will threaten the Cowboys' right edge any chance he gets. As good as Canberra's ground game is, look for Williams to send a few high balls to the wing of Edrick Lee, who towers over opposite Matthew Wright.
Key Match-Up: Blake Austin v Michael Morgan. This should be a classic battle between two genuine rising stars and two of the most damaging ball runners the NRL has to offer. Austin has four tries in his last three games including a double in their 22-point hatchet job of Newcastle before the bye. He provides great tandem with measured playmaker Williams, much like Morgan does with Thurston. Morgan has had a stellar campaign with eight tries and 11 line breaks but his form has dipped slightly since the Origin I call-up. The young five-eighth will have renewed focus on club footy after likely playing his last Origin game this year.
The History: Played 34; Raiders 20, Cowboys 14. The Raiders toweled up an Origin-depleted North Queensland 42-12 last time out but recent history has been very kind to the Cowboys, winning six of their past eight meetings.
What Are The Odds: Raiders ($1.77) v Cowboys ($2.05). Sportsbet punters believe the Cowboys' winning run is about to come to an end, with the money running three-to-one in favour of the Raiders. Canberra have been the big firmers of the weekend and there's even money for them to win 13+. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee – Ashley Klein; Assistant Referee – Chris Sutton; Touch Judges – Jeff Younis & Kasey Badger; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy & Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 3pm
The Way We See It: The first 20 minutes of games have not been the Cowboys' best and if Canberra get a sniff with a couple of early tries, they may just ride that momentum for the full 80 minutes with the motivation of knocking off the league's best. Plenty of points will be on offer for both sides if they can take their chances, but we think the Green Machine will be sharper on Saturday and hand North Queensland their first defeat in over three months. Raiders by eight.