North Queensland’s season on the brink of disaster
NORTH Queensland's NRL premiership dreams are in tatters after Canberra snapped a 12-year drought with an 18-8 boilover in Townsville.
After featuring in last year's grand final, the Cowboys are officially in crisis and staring at one of the biggest flops in premiership history after falling to their sixth loss in seven weeks.
If North Queensland was facing a Mount Kosciuszko-like challenge to win the 2018 title that is now looking more like Mount Everest.
After starting the season as premiership favourites, the Cowboys need a miracle to fight back from a 2-6 record and have any chance of winning the club's second title.
"We're just not consistent enough," Cowboys coach Paul Green said.
"When you are struggling for a form of confidence, it's amazing how many of those plays are just off the mark. It takes a lot to fight your way out of that.
"I was pretty disappointed. We didn't get beaten by brilliant footy. It was pretty simple stuff."
This wasn't the Canberra of old. The Raiders had only beat the battling Bulldogs and Eels going into the Round 8 contest and North Queensland should have made it back-to-back wins.
The Raiders hadn't won at 1300SMILES Stadium since 2006 and none of the 17 players wearing lime green had previously tasted victory in Townsville while in Canberra colours.
But the hungry Raiders held no fear in front of a 14,004-strong crowd as North Queensland struggled to execute with the ball.
A three-week run of home games against bottom eight teams Canterbury, Gold Coast and Canberra yielded just one win for North Queensland. A golden opportunity to get their quest back on track has been blown.
Now they face a daunting month of games against top-eight teams Penrith (away), Wests (away), South Sydney (home) and Melbourne (home).
The Cowboys' season could be over before State of Origin further rocks the club.
"It's hard one to take. It's very disappointing," co-captain Matt Scott said.
"They just wanted to win more than us at times tonight.
"Our effort was there, it's just in certain areas that we're not quite trying hard enough or doing our job well enough.
"It's extremely frustrating. No one in this club wants to be in this position but at the moment we're just not finding a way to get out of it."
The Cowboys had 55 per cent of possession, won the penalty count 9-5 and completed at 73 per cent but could not build any serious pressure against the plucky Raiders.
Old mates Johnathan Thurston, who celebrated his 35th birthday on Anzac Day, and Gavin Cooper combined like Torvill and Dean for the first points of the night in what was a sharp start for the Cowboys.
Up the other end, it was the resurgent Josh Papalii, all 115kg of him, who barged over for Canberra to level scores at 6-all.
When Aidan Sezer accelerated through a gap the Raiders had a shock 12-8 lead early in the second half which saw the Green Machine lift a gear.
After replacing the out-of-favour Lachlan Coote at fullback, Michael Morgan had a chance to edge the Cowboys ahead in the 69th minute when he burst into open space, only to spill the ball when tackled by Raiders No. 1 Jack Wighton.
The enthusiasm of Canberra was summed up when hooker Siliva Havili carried three Cowboys defenders over the line to win the game.
Long-term injuries to props Jordan McLean (foot) and Josh Asiata (pec) have hurt the Cowboys, but North Queensland's problems run far deeper.
CANBERRA 18 (S Havili J Papalii A Sezer tries J Croker 3 goals) bt NORTH QUEENSLAND 8 (G Cooper try J Thurston 2 goals) at 1300 SMILES Stadium. Referee: Henry Perenara, Jon Stone. Crowd: 14,004