The effects of monumental wins over the Roosters and Rabbitohs shone through for Canberra, who looked in desperate need of a break. They still managed to get over the line, holding off the spirited Cowboys.
The first half was a tight and low-scoring affair: North Queensland bought their A-game but their early kicking tactic – kicking on the first and second tackles, as well as repeatedly on the fourth – restricted them from building momentum. The Raiders recovered from their slow start to take a slender, but ultimately decisive, two-point lead into the main break.
The Cowboys struck in the second minute before Canberra had legally laid hands on the ball. Reece Robson burst out of dummy half and stiff-armed stand-in Raiders fullback Jordan Rapana for a close-range effort that came concerningly easily.
The Raiders hit back to tie the scores up against the run of play with a brilliant long range try streaming down the right edge. Some electric passing created an overlap and Curtis Scott’s lightning quick hands put Nick Cotric into space. Cowboys five-eighth Ben Hampton closed Cotric down, but he was no match for the raging beast. Cotric kept Hampton at arm’s length and put on the afterburners, passed inboard to George Williams who won the foot race to the in-goal, and was rewarded with six points.
George goes all the way
Canberra were handed their eventual 8-6 halftime lead on a silver platter, courtesy of Kyle Feldt’s overcooked goal-line drop-out which made its way over the touchline on the full. Jarrod Croker easily converted from point-blank range.
Jason Taumalolo put the Cowboys back in front off the back of a pivotal Mitchell Dunn strip. Dunn beat the Raiders at their own game, stripping Dunamis Lui to give North Queensland possession. In the resulting set, Taumalolo would reap the rewards. John Asiata looked back inside to Taumalolo, and Taumalolo made the culminative hole look far bigger than it was, charging home under the posts.
The Raiders snatched the lead back almost instantly: John Batemen creating something out of nothing and linking with his fellow returnee Curtis Scott. Batemen spun out of Justin O’Neill’s grasp and hit Scott with a chest pass. Scott was too strong for Murray Taulagi, slamming the ball down in the right corner.
Scott signals his return with a try
The final 20 minutes would remain a tight arm wrestle with big moments aplenty, but neither side could impact the scoreboard.
Some phenomenal Captain’s Challenges bought North Queensland extra opportunities, but they failed to put them to use. Their kicking game sorely lacked flair and variety, with Jake Clifford mind-numbingly targeting Feldt on the right edge – who almost completed a spectacular AFL-esque hanger in the first half.
With eight minutes left, Asiata limped from the field having just returned, and the Cowboys were reduced to 12 men – with all their interchanges used up. Asiata bravely returned in the final minutes, but was a shadow of himself: barely able to walk and failing to make a difference.
Canberra hung on for the 14-12 victory, and keep getting the job done. Batemen was impressive in his first game of 2020, finishing with a try assist, 152 metres and four tackle breaks. Jordan Rapana starred at fullback, running for 191 metres and breaking eight tackles.
The heavyweight match-up between Josh Papalii and Jason Taumalolo was a feature of the clash. Taumalolo narrowly pipped his opposing heart-and-soul competitor; running 225 metres, scoring a try and laying 37 tackles as opposed to Papalii’s 184 metres and 44 tackles.
North Queensland showed good signs and often found themselves in good position, but were let down by a lack of polish and an under-par kicking performance. They play fellow Queenslanders the Gold Coast next week and should see it as a real opportunity to claim a win.
Canberra have locked up fifth spot on the ladder, and have well and truly proved they have what it takes to compete come finals time, even with their injury concerns.