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Canberra travel to Townsville on the verge of the top four having defied a heavy injury toll to score consecutive wins over the Roosters and Rabbitohs.

North Queensland continued their improvement with a gritty loss to Manly last week and, though finals footy appears out of the picture, interim coach Josh Hannay is determined to restore more pride.

The Cowboys beat the Raiders in their most recent meeting last year but Ricky Stuart's men were victors in the preceding three clashes.

The Rundown

Team news

Cowboys: Centre Connelly Lemuelu returns with Mitch Dunn going to the bench. Jordan McLean is back at prop with Francis Molo returning to the interchange. Reuben Cotter and Ben Hampton drop out. Skilful prop John Asiata is included on the reserves and could make his return from a knee injury.

Josh McGuire was banned at the judiciary on Tuesday night while rookie five-eighth Daejarn Asi (knee) was ruled out on Wednesday with Molo and Mitchell Dunn respectively replacing them in the starting side. The team has been granted an exemption to bring Emry Pere into the squad on the reserves. The Cowboys have won only two from six at QCB Stadium.

Esan Marsters and Jake Granville were trimmed from the reserves an hour before kick-off after Pere was omitted on Friday.

Raiders: Jordan Rapana replaces Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (finger) at fullback.  Nick Cotric shifts to the wing. John Bateman makes his long-awaited return from shoulder surgery in the second row with Hudson Young moving to lock and Kai O'Donnell to the reserves.

Sam Williams and Harley Smith-Shields were cut from the reserves on game day after Matt Frawley and O'Donnell were omitted 24 hours before kick-off.

Key match-up

Reece Robson v Tom Starling. The Cowboys hooker has been a bright spot in an underwhelming season, establishing himself as a reliable customer with a dangerous running game. Meanwhile, Starling has done a great job since coming into the team for the injured Josh Hodgson, providing spark and defensive resilience.

Stat Attack

He's undoubtedly one of the game's brightest stars, but Raiders five-eighth Jack Wighton's unflinching willingness to back himself has resulted in the most errors this season - 20. Talented Cowboys playmaker Scott Drinkwater, who is out with a knee injury, isn't far behind with 18.