Sat 4 March 2017
1300SMILES Stadium - Crowd: 17548

Cowboys v Raiders preview - 2017 Round 1

Contenders face off in enticing Round 1 encounter.

Falling a week short in 2016, the Cowboys and Raiders will be keen as mustard to get their 2017 campaigns off to a positive start. Each side's pre-season was quite contrasting - the Cowboys had a positive Nines campaign and won their two trial matches by narrow margins, while the Raiders came up with only one win from three games at the Nines (including being trounced 35-6 by the Cowboys) and copped a 44-0 hiding from wooden spooners Newcastle in their only official trial.

The Raiders' struggles in the pre-season stand to reason, with centre and captain Jarrod Croker succuming to injury in the All Stars game and hooker Kurt Baptiste suffering an achilles injury in training before Christmas. With key men missing from Ricky Stuart's squad, he'll be up against it on Saturday when his side travel to the tropical north.

North Queensland meanwhile are almost full strength. Question marks remain over the fitness of Antonio Winterstein - but Paul Green is lucky enough to have firebrand rookies Javid Bowen and Kalyn Ponga as ready-made replacements should Wintersein succumb. There are also reports that co-captain Matt Scott is under an injury cloud and could miss the contest.

Last meeting: Round 18 2016 - Raiders 26 Cowboys 12

The Raiders hold a 21-16 advantage over the 37 clashes between these sides since 1995, but the Raiders haven't won in their last 8 visits to 1300SMILES Stadium.

Who to watch: It's JT vs JP! Expect fireworks when 2016 Dally M Winner Jason Taumalolo comes up against Queensland representative Josh Papalii. Both had stellar seasons for their respective clubs and will be keen to continue their form in 2017. Both have an immense work rate, making plenty of tackles and hit-ups each week. Taumalolo's 165 running metres per game is immense given he plays an average of 50 minutes per game. By comparison Papalii averages 121 metres per game despite playing most games in full.

Whichever of these two manage to set a solid platform for their creative, enterprising halves, may end up deciding this one.

The favourite: With Canberra missing some key players and the Cowboys having notable depth, the home side are strongly backed in this one.

My tip: It's hard to go past a sound Cowboys victory. The loss of Croker is massive and while trial form doesn't often count for much, there is much to be concerned about in terms of how Canberra can replace their key men. Cowboys by 14.

1. Lachlan Coote 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O'Neill 4. Kane Linnett 20. Javid Bowen 6. Michael Morgan 7. Johnathan Thurston 8. Matthew Scott 9. Jake Granville 10. Scott Bolton 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Ethan Lowe 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Ben Hampton 15. John Asiata 16. Coen Hess 17. Patrick Kaufusi

19. Zac Santo 2. Nick Cotric 3. Elliot Whitehead 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Blake Austin 7. Aidan Sezer 8. Clay Priest 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Shannon Boyd 11. Josh Papalii 12. Iosia Soliola 13. Luke Bateman 14. Adam Clydsdale 15. Dunamis Lui 16. Jeff Lima 17. Joseph Tapine

Referees: Ben Cummins, Chris Sutton; Sideline Officials: Brett Suttor, Nick Morel; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Luke Patten