After two hard losses, the Canberra Raiders will look to turn things around when they play the North Queensland Cowboys at Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville at 7:35 pm this Saturday.
Elliott Whitehead will have his first game as co-captain for the Raiders in place of the injured Josh Hodgson. The 31-year-old Englishman has played 129 games for the Raiders and has been an integral part of the side’s return to finals football.
Raiders’ coach Ricky Stuart has made several changes to the side from the team that lost last week to the Eels. Emre Guler and Ryan James get the nod as starting props while Corey Horsburgh and Corey Harawira-Naera come into the side after producing outstanding football in the NSW Cup.
Tom Starling and Seb Kris also come in to replace the injured Hodgson and Bailey Simonsson.
They will play a resurgent Cowboys’ side that has won its past two matches against the Bulldogs and Tigers respectively.
Last Time They Met
The Raiders had a scrappy two-point win over the Cowboys in round 12 last year, a Jarrod Croker penalty goal was the difference between the two teams.
Tom Starling v Reece Robson
Tom Starling burst on the scene last year as an unlikely NRL hero for the Raiders, debuting in a victory against the Roosters in a game where the Green Machine were heavy underdogs.
Starling gets his first start of the year with Josh Hodgson out injured, and he will use his speed around the ruck and crisp passing to get the Raiders’ attack back into top gear.
Despite only weighing at 80 kg, Starling never backs away from a challenge in attack or defence, and his dogged attitude and sheer effort in all aspects of the game will pave the way to victory for the Raiders.
Reece Robson had a promising start to his Cowboys career in 2020 but was held back due to injury. The last two weeks have been Robson’s best games of the season, helping the Cowboys secure back-to-back wins.
Coach's Comment: Stuart talks team changes
Caleb Aekins v Valentine Holmes
Caleb Aekins was one of the Raiders best last week, with 196 running meters and looking sharp in both attack and defence. If last week was the standard, then the fullback will look to make even more of an impact this week.
Against the Eels, Aekins showed what he could do in attack, splitting the Eels’ defence through the middle and setting the platform for a George Williams try. In defence, he showed that he is no pushover - stopping a rampaging Maika Sivo from scoring.
He will be up against Valentine Holmes, who’s been the Cowboys’ best player this season. Against the Bulldogs, Holmes had 219 running meters and seven tackle-breaks. The Raiders will have to shut down Holmes early to blunt the Cowboys attack.
Corey Horsburgh v Francis Molo
Needing a spark off the bench, Ricky Stuart has included ‘Big Red’ Corey Horsburgh into the NRL line up for the first time this year.
After his outstanding 2020 came to a sudden end due to injury, Horsburgh is finally back in the NRL and will look to cement his place on the team with a strong performance against the Cowboys.
Horsburgh has spent the last month or so acclimatising back to full contact rugby league in the NSW Cup competition. After stand-out performances on a weekly basis in NSW Cup, Horsburgh will bring his trademark aggression and appetite for putting on big hits into the Raiders’ NRL side.
Coming off the bench for the Cowboys is Francis Molo, a mountain of a man, who’s been one of the Cowboys most consistent performers this season. Last week, Molo had 187 running meters in just 37 minutes of football.
When Horsburgh and Molo are both on the field there’s no doubt there’ll be some big runs and even bigger hits.
Head to Head
The Raiders have played the Cowboys 45 times. They’ve won 25, lost 19 and drawn once.