Canberra was sitting pretty after the opening 40-minutes, with flashes of individual brilliance propelling them to a 12-point halftime advantage as Queensland Country Bank Stadium rained tries.
On the contrary, North Queensland was hindered by their ball control and struggled to build momentum early.
Jordan Rapana opened the Raiders’ account in the 13th minute; a silky passing chain seeing him ease over in the left-corner.
North Queensland’s Kyle Feldt didn’t allow the lead to last however, his fancy footwork leveling the scores at six-all a few minutes later.
A beautiful Coen Hess leap and grab – reminiscent of Australia’s rival sporting code – left the front-rower ruing what could’ve been, failing to capitalise on his athleticism and bring the Steeden to the turf of the in-goal, a try and Cowboys lead gone begging.
The Raiders made him pay too, piling on three unanswered tries soon after.
The first came courtesy of Josh Papalii’s strength, immediately impacting the game from the interchange to produce a brilliant offload that saw Emre Guler score.
A Jack Wighton cut-out pass isolated Rapana on the left edge for his second try and Canberra’s third, the centre crossing in a very similar fashion to his first.
Canberra’s lead stretched to a game-high 18-points after Tom Starling pierced the North Queensland line, surging through the backfield with George Williams in tow to cap off the run.
But it wasn’t all one-way traffic.
The Cowboys stole the momentum heading into half-time, a delicate Scott Drinkwater grubber sitting perfectly for Ben Condon to score, the scoreline winding up 24-12 at the main break.
Looking to maintain their newfound momentum, Valentine Holmes sparked the Cowboys’ spirited comeback, opening the second half with a bang. His bold and adventurous play – where he opted against kicking on the last tackle and ran instead – paid dividends, forcing a goal-line drop-out.
The drop-out would prove pivotal with the subsequent North Queensland ascendancy laying the foundation for Reece Robson to bash his way over the stripe, cutting Canberra’s lead to six.
With a Cowboys resurgence beckoning, the game’s expected course altered drastically.
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Drinkwater’s kicking game continued to excel, and prove a real point of difference as another deft and deadly accurate grubber paved the way for a Justin O’Neill try. Holmes’ goalkicking ensuring the scores were level once again at 24-24.
Canberra coughed up a crucial two-points through a late Ryan James shot on Ben Hampton, which gifted a penalty to the rampant Cowboys, Holmes coolly converting to maintain his 100% goalkicking accuracy for the night.
That two-point play would prove the difference.
The Raiders willed and willed to regain the lead, but it wasn’t to be. Elliott Whitehead’s cut-out pass to the sideline official in the final minute sealing the result.
Canberra was held scoreless in the second-half, with North Queensland putting on 20 unanswered points either side of the interval to stun the premiership contenders.
The gutsy win was monumental for the Cowboys, who have now won three straight games for the first time since 2019. Whereas pressure is mounting on the 3-4 Raiders, having slipped further out of the eight.