Canberra Raiders vs North Queensland Cowboys at GIO Stadium, Saturday 7.30pm
Canberra and North Queensland meet in this vital round 17 fixture with the two points on offer incredibly valuable at this stage of the season.
For the home side the Raiders, it needs to sort out its issues for not playing 80 minutes. Last Saturday’s defeat to Brisbane was another frustrating performance from the green machine who are starting to wear down the patience of its fans with inconsistent efforts throughout 2017. They had chances to win last week and lead at different stages of the clash. In the end though it was another defeat for the Raiders and they now sit in 11th place and are four points adrift of the playoff positions. They are now in the land of almost every clash being a must win.
The experience and size of Taylor will be invaluable as he looks to add to his 42 tries from 172 first grade matches.
North Queensland started life without Jonathan Thurston very well with a dramatic, come from behind victory over Penrith in a rare day game at 1300Smiles Stadium. The win reinforced the Cowboys never say die attitude and ensured that they will continue to fight for a finals position even despite the loss of its instrumental playmaker.
This week’s clash will be a much sterner test however with the Raiders talented backs bursting at the seams to find the line after a barren few weeks (that is unless your name is Jordan Rapana who is scoring tries for fun). This will also be a huge test for its forwards who come up against a gigantic pack with the Raiders boasting Dave Taylor, Shannon Boyd, Junior Paulo and Josh Papalii to name just a few.
This match could have semi final implications further down the track, so don’t be surprised to see some desperate play by both teams and both coaches.
Last Meeting: North Queensland Cowboys 20 Defeated Canberra Raiders 16 at 1300Smiles Stadium, Round 1, 2017.
The Cowboys had a stroke of luck in winning the match earlier this year after a field goal attempt from Thurston bounced off the cross bar and was forced by the home side.
The Cowboys have had good success against the Raiders with four wins in the last six meetings between the two sides. Although boasting just five wins in 19 visits to the Nation’s capital, three of those wins have come in the last four matches at GIO Stadium.
In 38 meetings between the Raiders and Cowboys, the Green Machine has its noses in front 21-17.
Who To Watch: Jordan Rapana has been red hot in the last two seasons for Canberra and the New Zealand international isn’t showing signs of sowing down. So far in 2017 he 14 tries from 14 games, 17 line breaks as well as four try assists. This is to go along with his 23 tries from last year that set the NRL alight. His combination with centre Joey Leilua has been phenomenal and the Cowboys edge defence will need to rush up and pressure the pair if they want to have any success.
As one of the premier finishers in the game, Rapana can hurt you from anywhere on the field and his try scoring exploits will be needed if Canberra is to make a charge for the finals in 2017.
Te Maire Martin has been thrust into the spotlight after his recent acquisition by the Cowboys from Penrith. The loss of JT has been softened by the arrival of the classy half who has brilliant speed and the maturity to have success in the NRL.
With inconsistent playing time out West Martin will be hoping for a new start at the Cowboys and can benefit them as they look to book a place in the finals.
Keep an eye out for his deft passes to his hard running forwards that could catch the Raiders by surprise.
In seven games in 2017 he has two tries, three try assists, two line breaks and is averaging 71 metres per game.
One of the other great pieces of work by Martin that goes unnoticed is his high work rate in defence. From seven games in 2017 he currently averages 25 tackles a game and has a good tackling technique for taking down the bigger players.
The Favourite: At home in the chilly conditions of Canberra, the home side are solid favourites
The Tip: 2017 has been a hard slog for the 6-9 Raiders but that will turn around this weekend with a win against the Cowboys. The cold weather will benefit the Raiders as well as the travel that the Cowboys have to make.
Look for Canberra to be more disciplined in attack and for the points to flow in an exciting clash.
Raiders by 14.