NRL Match Preview: Raiders v Cowboys

Canberra Raiders v North Queensland Cowboys

Saturday August 1, 5:30pm, 1300SMILES Stadium

CLICK HERE to purchase tickets!

Coverage: Foxsports 1

Referees:  Gerard Sutton and Michael Gordon

Video Referees:  Shayne Hayne and Ben Galea

With revenge on their mind and a berth in the top eight within their sights, the Canberra Raiders will travel to Townsville this week to arrest a nine year hoodoo against the North Queensland Cowboys at 1300SMILES Stadium.

The last time the Raiders defeated the Cowboys at 1300SMILES Stadium was back in Round 12, 2006 when a Todd Carney field goal sealed a 15-14 victory, however unfortunately for the Green Machine, the side has lost their past seven games at the venue.

“Oh really?” Josh Papalii said with shock when he was told of the unwanted statistic. “Well obviously if we haven’t won up there in nine years it’s a very tough place to win at but I’m confident that this won’t be the 10th year.

“We’re travelling to one of the hardest spots in the rugby league world to play JT [Jonathon Thurston] in his home town so it’s going to be a really tough game for us, but we’re well prepared and ready for them.”

The last time the Raiders met the Cowboys was earlier this year in Round 15 in what was undoubtedly one of the games of the year, regardless of which side you support.

CLICK HERE to watch the Round 15 Match Highlights.

After levelling scores at 20 points apiece and with the game seemingly headed into Golden Point, the great Thurston stepped up to the plate and kicked a field goal within the dying seconds of the match to break the Raiders’ hearts in front of their home fans.

And now, the Raiders want revenge!

“We definitely want to get some revenge over the Cowboys this weekend,” Shaun Fensom said. “That was a painful loss, going down by one point at home, but we learnt a lot from that game and will be better for it this time around. We found a few weaknesses in their defence and hopefully we can expose them again this weekend.”

Regardless of what happened six weeks ago, this match is highly crucial to both teams, which entails that another classic encounter looms between two of the best attacking teams in the competition.

After their 10 point win over the Penrith Panthers last weekend, the Green Machine is now just two points out of the top eight, whilst a win for the Cowboys, following on from their demolition of Parramatta – their third win in a row – may potentially see them draw level atop of the NRL ladder with the Brisbane Broncos.

“We know what a win can do for our side being just two points outside of the top eight so this match is huge for us,” Papalii said. “Everyone knows how good JT is, especially under pressure, and he was the difference the last time we played them. We learnt a lot from that game and we’re all confident of victory – even if they do have JT!”

North Queensland will also have plenty of added motivation this Saturday as it will be local product Matt Scott’s 200th game for the Cowboys.

In team changes, the Cowboys are unchanged from last week's thumping of the Eels, while Canberra's two-try hero last week, Paul Vaughan moves back into the starting line-up in place of Frank-Paul Nuuausala, in an otherwise unchanged side.

CLICK HERE to see the NRL Team List.

With both teams ranked as two of the top three attacking teams in the competition, each side possessing some of the most exciting talents in the game and high rewards for victory, fans can strap themselves in for 80 minutes of high octane brilliance.

KEY MATCHUPS

David Shillington v James Tamou

Both the Raiders and Cowboys possess sizeable forward packs led by experience and there’s no better indication of this than up front this weekend. The Cowboys boast the Australian front row of James Tamou and Matt Scott, while the Raiders have former national representatives David Shillington (Australia) and Frank-Paul Nuuausala (New Zealand) in their prop rotation.

Shillington in particular has been in ominous form over the past few weeks, proving he’s still the leader of the Raiders engine room, averaging 145 metres per game. His opposite number James Tamou puts up similar numbers with an average of 145 metres per game and both are expected to lay the platform for their respective sides.

With only a few weeks left on a seven year career in Canberra, Shillington is looking to finish his time in lime green with another finals appearance and he will be key for the Raiders momentum this week.

Stopping the go-forward of Tamou will be a key this weekend for the club's middle unit, as he has the ability to provide the surges which give the likes of Thurston and Michael Morgan the chance to weave their magic.

Josh Hodgson v Jake Granville

The battle of the number nines this weekend puts arguably the NRL’s two form rakes head to head, with both Hodgson and Granville coming off man of the match performances for their respective sides.

Hodgson has proven to be one of Ricky Stuart’s more astute purchases in 2015 and is slowly building his way into an 80 minute performer. His kicking game has become a valuable option for the Raiders and he’s always looking to create something in this space, whether it be a 40/20, or last play grubber from dummy half to set up a try.

Like Hodgson for the Raiders, the signing of Granville for the Cowboys has been one which has added extra potency to a position that’s lacked impact since the departure of livewire hooker James Segeyaro. Granville has become a third playmaker for the Cowboys and his combination with Thurston is shaping into one of the most important for them as they push into the final six weeks of the season and a likely finals campaign.

Watch for Hodgson and Granville to take advantage of each teams big forwards and expect plenty of running from them towards the back end of each half.

Josh Papalii v Jason Taumalolo

In Super Hero round it may take a super hero effort from the enormous talents of Josh Papalii and Jason Taumalolo to secure victory for their respective sides. Papalii has matured into one of the Raiders most important players since the Origin period and is starting to find himself amongst the Raiders try scorers each week. Last week against the Panthers Papalii involved himself even more as he looked for more football in the middle third of the field, with his trademark surges giving the Raiders a platform for their outside backs to wreak havoc.

Papalii is averages 31 tackles per game and the Australian and Queensland forward is playing more and more minutes as his match fitness improves. If Papalii can get some ball in good field position he provides headaches for defensive lines, with defenders forced to commit to him in numbers, which can then free up the Raiders right side attack of Joseph Leilua and Jordan Rapana.

Without a doubt Jason Taumalolo is one of the gamest fastest learners and he’s established himself as a mainstay of the Cowboys pack at the tender age of 22. His potential seems limitless at the moment and his rawness and natural ability have given him a base where he can become one of the supertars of the NRL. A player with size, speed and mobility, Taumalolo can’t be underestimated, with the Raiders needing to ensure they provide solid defensive structures when he gets the ball given that he averages 156 metres per game. If they don’t he can make you pay, with the Eels finding this out last weekend as he scored a double from close range.

STAT ATTACK


Record against the Cowboys:

In a total of 35 games against North Queensland, Canberra has won 20 games and lost on 15 occasions.

Cowboys record at GIO Stadium:

In a total of 17 games played at 1300SMILES Stadium, Canberra has won 7 games and lost on 10 occasions.

Last three encounters:

1.        Cowboys defeated Raiders 21-20 at GIO Stadium in Round 15, 2015

2.        Raiders defeated Cowboys 42-12 at GIO Stadium in Round 11, 2014

3.        Cowboys defeated Raiders 28-22 at GIO Stadium in Round 1, 2014


HE SAID IT

Shaun Fensom: “We will have to watch Jake Granville around the ruck area. On the weekend we were pretty loose in our defence around the ruck area and we will need to fix that because Granville is very explosive out of dummy half and he ran riot against Parramatta last week and set up a few tries.”

CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Fensom.

Josh Papalii: “The Cowboys are the only side in the top four that we face on the road home so this is going to give us a good indication of where we are as a team.”

CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Papalii.

Sia Soliola: “We’re not focused on what’s happening on the outside of another club [Cowboys salary cap accusations], we’re just focusing on what we can control and getting our preparation right for what will be a very tough game.”

CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Soliola.