Round 4: Cowboys v Raiders preview
Cowboys look to find their feet against in-form Raiders
Stunned after conceding five tries in the space of 17 minutes to go from a 10-6 halftime lead to 42-16 loser last Saturday, the Cowboys will be desperate to make amends in front of their home fans as they eye off a Raiders outfit playing with increasing confidence.
Enduring a difficult fortnight with two heavy defeats to Brisbane and Cronulla along with the loss of marquee forward Jason Taumalolo to injury, the Cowboys will be hoping history stands them in good stead to come away with two much-needed competition points having won five of nine meetings against the Raiders since Paul Green and Ricky Stuart took over as respective coaches in 2014, along with winning nine of the past ten meetings between the pair in Townsville.
Opting to retain the same 17 players following significant changes the week before, Saturday night will mark personal milestones for Jordan McLean in his 100th NRL appearance, while utility Ben Hampton will bring up 50 matches for North Queensland since joining form Melbourne in 2017.
Coming away with a deserved 17-10 win over Newcastle last Friday, the Raiders will make their second trip to Queensland this season as they look to record their strongest start to a season since 2005 with three wins from the opening four matches.
Breaking through for a long-awaited 18-8 win in Townsville last season, the prospect of claiming back-to-back wins at 1300 SMILES Stadium for the first time since 2004 should bring about a strong performance from Ricky Stuart's side in a match that will see captain Jarrod Croker surpass Simon Woolford as the third most-capped Canberra player with 234 first grade appearances.
Still without Aidan Sezer due to a stomach muscle issue, Sam Williams has retained the number seven jersey in an unchanged team, while last week's debutant, Hudson Young, retains his place on the bench with Joseph Tapine still sidelined.
Who to watch: Playing a prominent role in the club's maiden premiership victory, North Queensland hooker Jake Granville has struggled to replicate the dynamic form that saw him touted as a potential successor to Cameron Smith. Among the older heads present throughout the Cowboys evolving roster, the 30-year-old former Brisbane rake has been forced to play extended minutes to the detriment of his own game with new signing Kurt Baptiste biding his time with the Northern Pride. Proving less potent close to the try line with a single four-pointer in the past twelve months, Granville will need to be at his best opposing Josh Hodgson on Saturday evening for the Cowboys to have a chance of arresting a two-match losing streak.
Coming up with several decisive plays after receiving a late call-up last week, Sam Williams be hoping to finally cement his place as a permanent NRL playmaker in 2019. Producing periods of quality only to languish in reserve grade or turn to Super League for greater game time over the past eight seasons, the 28-year-old will be banking on Aidan Sezer's injury misfortune to further his own chances of staying in Canberra with his current deal up at the end of the season. Playing a prominent role in a spine featuring an inexperienced fullback and a five eighth learning the intricacies of halves play on the run, a strong performance from Williams could see coach Ricky Stuart given plenty to ponder regarding the side's preferred number seven.
The favourite: With North Queensland coming into the match off the back of two heavy losses and Canberra enjoying a wretched run in Townsville over the past decade, neither side can be separated for the Round 4 encounter.
My tip: Qualifying for the finals in six of the eight years the Raiders have won in Townsville, look for the visitors to build towards a return to the play-offs with a comprehensive victory on Saturday night. Raiders by 12.