Johnathan Thurston stars as the home side earn their first home win of the season.
The North Queensland Cowboys have given their new coach Paul Green the perfect start to his NRL tenure, coming from behind to beat the Canberra Raiders 28-22 in Townsville.
Behind by 16 points mid-way through the first half it did not appear the Cowboys would break their poor record at home in the first round historically.
However, tries before and half-time sparked them into action, as the Raiders let a golden chance to win on the road slip through their fingers.
The Cowboys’ victory is the first home win in round one since they beat the Adelaide Rams in 1997, putting into context how big an opportunity new Canberra coach Ricky Stuart and his side missed, despite looking excellent in all phases of play in the first 20 minutes of the game.
Canberra opened the scoring for the game as Anthony Milford put on a sensational short-side move to put Edrick Lee over the line for a 6-0 lead.
The amazing start by the Raiders continued as Milford was a split second too late to ground a grubber kick, with the young exciting players from Canberra leaving their mark.
Canberra’s sensational start continued as they scored against the run of play, with Jarrod Croker racing 75 meters after cleaning up a split pass.
The Raiders as the lead grew to be 12 after just 21 minutes, a blazing fast start for a side known for its poor record away from home.
Jonathan Thurston was just inches away from scoring for the Cowboys, but Milford and the video referee conspired to thwart the star five-eighth.
The Raiders had not won in Townsville since 2006, but when Terry Campese combined well with Josh Papalii and the team in green were in again.
Finally after 30 minutes, the Cowboys scored their first try of the year when Kyle Feldt crossed after on the back of Kane Linnett making a surging run from deep in his half.
Thurston left the conversion out to the right of the posts as the score became 16-4.
Showing why he is one of the best in the world, Thurston showed what he can do when given time and space, after taking a quick tap before leaving the Raiders’ defence bamboozled as the margin was narrowed to just six.
Terry Campese acknowledged his side fell away badly after an inspired first 20 minutes of the season.
“We knew they’d come back and it would be a tough day for us,” Campese said.
“We started really well and we had plenty of good defence first up, but we need to start again in the second half coming up.
Linnett looked to have kept his side’s comeback hopes alive when he crashed over over wide, showing a
clean set of hands to pull down a cross field kick.
However, the video referee declined the try, saying the Cowboys centre bobbled the ball while trying to ground it, in what was clearly the correct call.
North Queensland would not be denied as Gavin Cooper bashed his way across the line after being sent on a course for the line by Thurston, as the scores were locked up at 16-all in the
The home side grabbed the lead for the first time in when Rory Kostjasyn scored after sustained pressure by the Cowboys lead to the Raiders’ line cracking.
Canberra hit back when Reece Robinson scored against the run of play when he intercepted a pass and raced 80 metres the other direction, before missing the conversion from out seeing the home side maintain a two-point lead.
And like the game earlier in the night, the scores became level as Milford slotted a penalty from right in front, making the score 22-all with 12 minutes to go.
The Cowboys faithful were sent into raptures when winger Antonio Winterstein scored a sensational try, planting the ball down while he was air-borne and with most of his body outside
the field of play.
The stunning effort gave Thurston one of his toughest chances of the night to convert, but the trademark right to left angle off the boot saw the ball sail between the uprights, making the score 28-22 with five minutes left.