THE under-pressure Canberra Raiders have pocketed their first competition points in over a month with a 42-12 defeat of North Queensland on Sunday afternoon.
The victory relieves the tension that had mounted after three demoralising losses, including two 50-point pastings and a heart-breaking failure to Penrith at home last Sunday.
Although Canberra’s defeat of the Thurston-less Cowboys will hardly have the NRL’s heavyweights quaking in their boots, the gritty effort at least secures a return to the winner’s circle for the Green Machine, who traded their usual lime green jerseys for a resplendent canary yellow number to raise money for cancer research.
The loss ends North Queensland’s three-game winning streak, and bodes poorly ahead of the taxing State of Origin period, which robs them of the services of megastar Johnathan Thurston, props Matt Scott and James Tamou, and veteran Brent Tate.
The Cowboys are still yet to win on their travels away from the tropics so far in 2014, losing all five of their away games.
The opening exchanges were a clash between one team lacking their representative stars and another lacking confidence, as both sides committed a litany of errors.
A volley of knock-ons and penalties by Canberra allowed rookie Cowboys back-rower Ethan Lowe to barge over for the first try after 17 minutes.
Lowe – like Thurston, a St Mary’s Toowoomba old boy – took over the kicking duties from the absent JT, and made no mistake converting his own try.
The first time Canberra managed to hang on to the pill for a couple of sets in a row they threaded together a neat sweeping move that culminated in a Jack Wighton try, and the hosts didn’t have to wait long to grab the lead, as a Shaun Fensom charge-down led to a four-pointer for the rampaging Paul Vaughan.
A Jarrod Croker penalty goal looked to have secured the Raiders’ 14-6 lead at the break until some razzle-dazzle football gifted Wighton his second and sent the Green Machine – or rather, the Yellow Machine – to the sheds with a 18-6 buffer.
Curtis Rona narrowed the gap straight after the halftime oranges until Canberra skipper Terry Campese took it upon himself to steady the ship, with a masterful show-and-go sending over Jarrad Kennedy in the corner.
The Raiders dangerous right-hand side was the source of their fifth try, this time to winger Reece Robinson, which established a 30-12 lead with 20 minutes left on the clock.
With the two competition points as good as sewn up, spectacular tries to Croker and boom fullback Anthony Milford added the icing to a cake that will taste extremely sweet to the embattled outfit from the nation’s capital.
There’s no respite for either side next weekend – Canberra face the Roosters in Sydney, while North Queensland entertain Melbourne in a test of both clubs’ fatigued Origin stars.