Raiders beat depleted Cowboys
The Canberra Raiders have moved to within one point of the Telstra Premiership top four with a 26-12 win over the North Queensland Cowboys at GIO Stadium on Monday.
Raiders fullback Jack Wighton proved the difference on the night with a try in each half as well as some bone-rattling defence at the back to guide the Green Machine to their third win in a row.
With five players on Origin duty, the 2015 premiers fought bravely to stay in the contest, but couldn't hit their straps in attack without their stars.
In their stead, debutant Josh Chudleigh and third-gamer Coen Hess were fantastic, each crossing for a try in a major positive for Paul Green's undermanned side.
Things got off to a shaky start for the Cowboys when Antonio Winterstein spilled a Josh Hodgson kick in the opening minute.
From the ensuing set, Jack Wighton turned nothing into something special as he fended away three defenders from a standing start to crash over for the opening try.
Unperturbed by the early setback, the Cowboys hit straight back via the left boot of Lachlan Coote and an acrobatic leap from backrower Coen Hess to restore parity.
It didn't take long for the Green Machine to reclaim the lead with Josh Hodgson pouncing on an upright-assisted Aidan Sezer grubber to make it 12-6, before Jarrod Croker slotted a gift penalty goal to make it an eight-point game.
That's the way it stayed until six minutes into the second stanza when former Raiders SG Ball star Chudleigh came back to haunt his former side with a cracking try to become the 15th player to score on their NRL debut in 2016.
From what looked like a simple play the ball, Chudleigh scooped up the Steeden from dummy half, sprinted past the front-line defence before he stepped past Wighton to reduce the margin to two points.
But just like the first half, Wighton decided to do it all himself on a seemingly innocuous last-tackle play to power through some feeble goal-line defence to complete his double.
Another Croker penalty pushed the lead back out to eight on the hour mark before last year's premiers missed a golden opportunity to cut the margin when Ray Thompson lost the ball with Hess pushing up in support.
The Cowboys continued to push until the very end but eventually had their spirit broken five minutes from full-time when Sezer dummied and stepped his way through to seal the 14-point win.
Raiders 26 (Jack Wighton 2, Josh Hodgson, Aidan Sezer tries; Jarrod Croker 5 goals) defeated Cowboys 12 (Coen Hess, Josh Chudleigh tries; Ethan Lowe 2 goals) at GIO Stadium. Half-time: 14-6 Raiders.