In a game that could have serious top 8 ramifications, both the Canberra Raiders and North Queensland Cowboys were looking to join the winners circle after back-to-back losses.
It was the home side who came out with the energy to start the game and off the back of some powerful running from the Raiders middle men and some quick play the balls, hooker Tom Starling sliced through some Cowboys defenders to score under the posts.
Some ill-discipline from both teams provided each other with good field position but it was the Raiders who were able to take full advantage thanks to a slick tap on from Corey Harawira-Naera to Jordan Rapana.
Rapana dived over in the corner and Canberra really looked like they were going to put on a score in the opening half as they went up 12-0.
Described as the ‘worst challenge of all time’ by commentators, the Cowboys tried to overrule a strip from Reuben Cotter but replays showed the interchange forward blatantly raked the ball out of Tapine’s hands giving the Raiders a further opportunity to extend their lead.
The Cowboys were let off the hook when the Raiders had them shot to bits out wide, creating open pastures for Semi Valemei.
Brad Schneider saw the space and kicked out to his outside man but a wayward kick saw a try go begging and the Cowboys breathing a sigh of relief.
The visitors showed they had some football in them of their own when a lovely backline move saw Scott Drinkwater find open space through a yawning gap to put Kyle Feldt over in the corner.
Upon closer inspection, the gap in the Raiders defence was created by a lead runner who denied Jack Wighton the opportunity to make a tackle.
The Raiders big men again marched upfield to give Wighton a chance for an attacking kick which found his backrower.
However, the home side squandered a golden opportunity to capitalise on their early dominance as Elliot Whitehead spilt his lollies over the try line.
The Cowboys had their opportunities in strong field position but some resolute goal line defence from the home side forced a number of errors keeping the men from the North scoreless in what was an impressive first half from the Raiders.
12-0 not a true reflection of the Raiders dominance.
The Raiders looked to have gone back to their power game which has provided them with success in recent years.
The Cowboys looked to have a taken a leaf out of the Raiders book in the second half with some hard running through the middle of the field and quick play the balls shifting momentum.
That’s exactly how the visitors scored their opening try; a short crash ball one off the ruck to man mountain Heilum Luki who steamrolls over a couple of defenders to make it 12-6.
A rookie a mistake from Tom Dearden not getting to ground from returning a kick in his in-goal saw him driven back 5 metres to concede a line drop out.
Some last-ditch desperation goal line defence saw Schneider somehow how held up.
Only a Cotter forearm and Chad Townsend prevented the try.
The Cowboys made their way up field and with not much doing in attack, Valentine Holmes, with sheer determination and energy took it upon himself to score an inspiring try under the posts.
Ricky Stuart sensed his side need to shift momentum and looked to his bench for some X factor in Xavier Savage who came on for Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.
Stuart might have wanted his time back again when Savage was dragged 5 metres into touch returning a kick to gift the cowboys a golden opportunity to take the lead.
The Cowboys didn’t waste any time capitalising on the error with Jeramiah Nanai pouncing on a deft grubber kick from Drinkwater who looked likely all night.
Holmes converted to make it 18-12 to the visitors.
It looked like the two sides had swapped jerseys at half time with the Raiders looking lost for energy and direction.
The Cowboys were continuously able to march their way upfield to find themselves in a position to ice the game with a field goal before Corey Harawira-Naera had other ideas.
The second rower made a timely one on one strip to keep the Raiders hopes alive with 5 minutes to play.
Canberra were able to get an attacking kick away which was taken comfortably by Drinkwater on his own goal-line but an illegal escort was found by referee Ashley Klein.
The Raiders had one last chance, which was quickly squandered by Joseph Tapine who knocked on a pass not meant for him, summing their second half.
The Raiders will be rueing multiple missed opportunities in the first half which ultimately cost them winning a game they looked so destined to win.
North Queensland Cowboys 18 (Luki, Holmes, Nanai; Goals: Holmes 3/3) def. Canberra Raiders 12 (Starling, Rapana; Goals: Schneider 2/2).
NRL News Player of the Game:
3. Valentine Holmes (NQL)
2. Scott Drinkwater (NQL)
1. Jason Taumalolo (NQL)