Cowboys v Raiders preview

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North Queensland Cowboys v Canberra Raiders Saturday 7:30pm at 1300SMILES Stadium

Is the slump over, or just beginning?

You could ask the above question of both teams going into this one - coming off contrasting results as well.

North Queensland finally bucked their horror start to 2018, after opening the season with a win over Cronulla they went on to lose five games, finally bookending that run of outs with a win over the Titans last round. Several questionable showings had big question marks over a side many expected to be part of the title fight across all 25 rounds.

On the other side of the aisle are the Raiders - a similarly poor start saw them winless until Round 5, then string back-to-back wins together (albeit over mediocre opposition). It proved a false dawn last Saturday when Souths ran the cleaners through them in sunny Gosford, conceding 42 points and suddenly the wheels were wobbling off the Green Machine's resurgence.

On balance you can look at these teams and predict that the Cowboys are certainly gathering a bit of momentum - despite losses they've always had the potential and on paper they certainly have the quality - sadly it's been difficult to say the same about the Raiders. They came close on a few occasions in their 0-4 start to the season but were probably made to look good by poor sides in Parramatta and Canterbury, and then shown up for their woeful defending against South Sydney last week.

There's not a whole lot to say in terms of team news - the Cowboys welcome back Shaun Fensom on the interchange in place of the injured John Asiata, while Canberra have returned Josh Papali'i to the starting side at lock, opting instead to bench Luke Bateman.

Last meeting: Round 17 2017 - Raiders 18 Cowboys 31

Across 39 meetings since the Cowboys' 1995 debut, the ledger is fairly even, Canberra just ahead with 21 wins. In Townsville the home side holds the advantage with 12 wins to the Raiders' 7. North Queensland were victorious in both Round 7 and Round 1 last year.

Who to watch: There's little doubt Papali'i is back in the starting 13 for a reason - and that reason is the Cowboys' jumper 13. Jason Taumalolo has been arguably the game's best lock for the last couple of seasons and after a slow start to the season he needs to be firing every week. 

Throw a fired up Josh Papali'i into the mix and you've got one intense battle on your hands. Josh has been on the outer at Canberra this season, lining up for Mounties a few weeks ago after being punted from the side by a furious Ricky Stuart in the wake of the Raiders' bumbling loss to Manly in Round 4. He did his job - proving himself in reserve grade and has slowly made his way back into Rick's good graces, and the timing to start him in the thirteen couldn't be better.

JT v JP.... bring it on.

The favourite: A home ground advantage, a bit of form and a last-start loss for their opponents mean it's a Cowboys win the bookies favour.

My tip: If the Cowboys are fair dinkum about getting out of the cellar, they have to win this one. All signs from their confidence-building win over the Titans last week is that they're on track to do just that, so I'll go with the Cowboys by 14.

1. Lachlan Coote 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O'Neill 4. Ben Hampton 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. Michael Morgan 7. Johnathan Thurston 8. Matthew Scott 9. Jake Granville 10. Scott Bolton 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Coen Hess 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Te Maire Martin 15. Shaun Fensom 16. Corey Jensen 17. Ethan Lowe

1. Jack Wighton 2. Nick Cotric 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Blake Austin 7. Aidan Sezer 8. Iosia Soliola 9. Siliva Havili 10. Junior Paulo 11. Joseph Tapine 12. Elliot Whitehead 13. Josh Papalii 14. Ata Hingano 15. Shannon Boyd 16. Luke Bateman 17. Dunamis Lui

Referees: Henry Perenara, Jon Stone; Sideline Officials: Nick Morel, Nick Beashel; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Bryan Norrie;

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