It all begins this Saturday at 7pm when the Canberra Raiders take to the field at 1300 Smiles Stadium in Townsville for their Round 1 encounter with the North Queensland Cowboys.

While Round 1 is full of blockbuster matches, Saturday night is looking like it will be a standout. The Raiders and Cowboys finished 2016 as the leading attacking teams in the competition, and both teams have retained the bulk of their strike weapons. 

In an attempt to break a losing streak in Townsville that stretches back to 2006, the Raiders traveled up north early this week in a bid to acclimatize to the steamy conditions. 

The Raiders will be without Jarrod Croker, Junior Paulo and Kurt Baptiste for the clash, while the Cowboys are at full strength, although injury clouds do loom over Antonio Winterstein and Matt Scott. 

Due to Croker's injury and the departure of Edrick Lee, the Raiders will debut a new left-edge pairing of Elliott Whitehead and Nick Cotric on Saturday. The duo are set to play a large role in determining the outcome of the match, as the Cowboys are sure to target them relentlessly. 

Last Time

The Raiders emerged with a hard-fought 26-12 victory over the Cowboys when the two sides met in Round 18 last season at GIO Stadium. The margin of victory should have arguably been larger, given the Cowboys were missing a chunk of their Origin stars. 

The two sides did also meet at the Auckland Nines earlier this year, with the Cowboys thrashing the Raiders youthful and understrength team. 

Watch highlights from the last time the Raiders and Cowboys met in the video below.