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The North Queensland Cowboys withstood a classic Canberra Raiders comeback to post a thrilling one-point 19-18 win to open their 2023 season.

It was a typical 'game of two halves', with the Raiders forced to do a mountain of defence in the first half, on the back foot early with the home side heaping on the pressure.

After defending their own goal line gamely, with a few try-saving intercept attempts denying the Cowboys their opening points, the pressure finally told, with Murray Taulagi scoring in the 25th minute after being denied only moments early by Nick Cotric swiping the ball from his hands as he was running for the line.

The home side ran out to an 18-0 lead early, with Scott Drinkwater especially impressive with a double, with the spine clicking with Tom Dearden and Reece Robson heavily involved in the set up.

However, a try to Raiders forward Emre Guler late in the first half saw the momentum shift, with the visitors using that as inspiration to come out firing in the second.

While the home side were nearly perfect to start the game, they got away from their game plan as the Raiders were about to put the pressure on, with back-to-back tries to Tom Starling in the 53rd minute and an inspirational Jack Wighton in the 57th locking scores at 18-18. 

After some fiery back-and-forth in the heat of North Queensland, Chad Townsend was able to coolly slot field goal in the 75th minute to snatch the win. 

Match snapshot

  • At halftime, the Cowboys had 68% share of possession with a completion rate of 21/23, while the Raiders had 32% of the ball with a 9/12 completion rate.
  • By the end of the match, that had evened up somewhat to 54% (35/42) for the Cowboys and 46% (29/36) for the Raiders to show the fightback from the visitors.
  • The first half to the match was defined by some strong defence from both sides, with big hits the order of the day, with Murray Taulagi and Jordan Rapana both especially fired up. 
  • Emre Guler's try for the Raiders against the run of play just moments before the halftime hooter shifted the momentum for the away side who were under pressure for the majority of the first half, helping push his side to 18-6, rather than 18-0.

Guler claws one back

  • Val Holmes may have been the leading points scorer in the NRL last season, kicking 100 goals in his 244 tally, but his target was off early in the match, taking until his third attempt to get the ball over the goal post.
  • Chad Townsend's field goal in the 75th minute were the first points for the Cowboys since the 35th minute of the game.
  • Going into this match, the Cowboys had won four of their past five games against the Raiders and have now moved to five from six.
  • Prior to the match, the Raiders had won their past four Round 1 games. 

Match Highlights: Cowboys v Raiders

Play of the game 

Can't go past the winning play as the play of the match in a game filled with plenty of highlights. Chad Townsend used all his experience to calmly slot the field goal to ensure his side started their season with a win at home after the Raiders had threatened to spoil the party. 

Townsend puts the Cowboys in front

What they said 

"We started the game really well ... just before halftime and just after, I thought we let the Raiders back in the game. Very happy to start 2023 with a win. Credit to this team ... really happy with the boys tonight." - Chad Townsend - North Queensland Cowboy co-captain 

Cowboys: Round 1

"We were still very confident at half-time that we would finish off that next 40. That defence tonight, being game one of the year ... that was an unbelievable defensive effort. They way they fought back, the boys have a very proud coach." - Ricky Stuart - Canberra Raiders coach 

Raiders: Round 1

What's next

Next week, the Cowboys head to Suncorp Stadium for a blockbuster derby on Friday night against Round 1 winners the Brisbane Broncos.

The Raiders will head north to Kayo Stadium next Saturday afternoon to take on the Dolphins.


Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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