Canberra will need to shake off a five-year NRL hoodoo against a depleted North Queensland outfit as they bid to keep their top four hopes intact.
The resurgent Raiders host a Cowboys side minus their Origin stars in the nation’s capital in the final match of the NRL’s round 18 on Monday night.
A win will ensure the Raiders are just a point behind fourth-placed Canterbury and the third-placed Cowboys on 23 points
But Canberra have to overcome a North Queensland side against whom their current record is worse than any other side.
The Raiders have won just two of 10 matches against the premiers since 2011.
And the Cowboys claimed the corresponding match in Canberra last year 21-20 courtesy of a Johnathan Thurston field goal.
But without Origin stars Thurston, Matt Scott, Justin O’Neill, Gavin Cooper and James Tamou and the injured Michael Morgan, the Cowboys present a far less intimidating side.
Ben Spina, Coen Hess, Josh Chudleigh, Patrick Kaufusi and Tautau Moga all come into coach Paul Green’s Cowboys side. Rory Kostjasyn will captain the team in the absence of Thurston.
“That’s the trade off, you lose those guys and it disrupts what we are trying to do here but the benefit is they have that experience of being around the best players in that (Origin) environment,” Green said.
“You hope what they learn in those camps with that team they bring back here and make sure they implement it here, which lifts our level of professionalism.
“It is a huge chunk but that is what happens this time of year. It is no use whingeing about it, you just get on with it.”
The Raiders are buoyed by five wins in their last six matches and they have won six of eight at home this season, including four straight.
They are averaging 29.8 points at home this year, the second most of any NRL side.
Luke Bateman and Josh Papalli – who was ruled out of Origin III with a hip injury – are out of Ricky Stuart’s Raiders side, Clay Priest and Iosia Soliola come in.
North Queensland trained in Canberra on Sunday as they rounded off their preparation for the clash.
* Jarrod Croker needs two points for 1300 career points. He will join a prestigious club with names like Andrew Johns, Daryl Halligan, Clinton Schifcofske as well as current stars Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Corey Parker.
* North Queensland’s attack has been firing and they are ranked first in points scored (25.9 per game) and equal first in tries (4.3 per game).
* The Raiders have conceded at least 20 points in six of their eight home games this season.
Source: Fox Sports Stats