The Cowboys came back from the dead to beat the Raiders 18-12 on the back of a star display by Valentine Holmes at GIO Stadium.
Tom Starling opened the scoring in the fourth minute after driving through a gaping hole in the Cowboys defense to see the Raiders take an early 6-0 lead.
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The Raiders extended their lead when Corey Harawira-Naera produced brilliant hands to set up Jordan Rapana for a try in the corner to make it 12-0.
The Cowboys appeared to have scored their first try against Kyle Feldt, but he was called up for obstruction after Jack Wighton was taken out in the buildup.
The Cowboys started the second half the strongest with Heilum Luki crashing through from close range to make it 12-6.
Valentine Holmes then produced a brilliant run to score under the posts to make it 12-12 with 16 minutes left to set up a stand finish.
Scott Drinkwater produced an accurate grubber for Jeremiah Nanai to score to see the Cowboys take the lead for the first time at 18-12.
The Raiders threw it all at the Cowboys late, but the visitors held on for a famous comeback victory.
Here are the main takeaways from the game.
CANBERRA FADERS RETURN
The Raiders have blown more double-digit leads than any other NRL team in the past three years and they squandered a 12-0 halftime lead against the Cowboys.
Their loss to the Cowboys was the eighth time they’ve lost a double-digit lead in the past three seasons, three more than any other team.
“The Raiders have a history lately of giving up leads,” Matt Russell said.
“Come back in the first round against the Sharks, they were leading 12-0 to let the Sharks back into the game.
“That night they had a game winner Hudson Young.”
“No one has blown more double-digit leads than the Raiders,” Warren Smith said.
“They’ve blown eight in the last three seasons.
“The Broncos and Titans are the next two worst on the list with five blown runs per play since 2020.”
It was a shame the Raiders couldn’t seal the win as two of their stars in Jack Wighton and Josh Papalii did everything in their power to lead their team to victory.
Wighton and Papalii had their share of criticism during the Raiders’ inconsistent start to the season, but they had their marks throughout the game as the Raiders took a 12-0 halftime lead.
Wighton may not have had as many running yards as he would have liked, but he controlled the proceedings with his long kicking game.
Greg Alexander praised Wighton’s kicking game after producing a booming kick late in the first half to control play with territory.
“Wighton’s kicking game was absolutely tonight,” Alexander said.
“This is the game you want. There are a few minutes left in half-time and you are leading 12-0.
“You want to get the ball to the other end and put it in touch and absorb some time.”
The Raiders turned to Wighton again when the Cowboys produced a comeback in the second half.
“He was very good at finding space tonight with his kicking game,” Alexander said.
“Another good kick near the try line.
“He forces Scott Drinkwater’s error and the Raiders will get the feed from 10 yards out.”
Papalii lost running yards in 2022, but he had more than 100 in the first half against the Cowboys.
Michael Ennis believes the challenge of playing Jason Taumalolo brought out the best in Papalii.
“You could just see that glint in his eye that he was ready for that battle with Jason Taumalolo,” Ennis said of Papalii.
“The two big bulls are getting into it. Papalii laid down a huge platform.
Papalii finished with 142 yards, two tackle jumps, three offloads and 24 clear tackles.
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HOLMES RESPONDS TO CRITICISM AS KEY TO FORM REVEALED
Valentine Holmes continued his strong start to the season since moving to center after leading the Cowboys to a famous comeback victory.
Holmes finished with 121 yards running, seven tackle saves, two offloads, two line breaks, a try and was clear from the kick tee.
There’s been a lot of speculation about Holmes’ best position given his big salary, but it’s clear he can still win Cowboys games from the center position.
“I’m telling you the one that’s ready to fight last month was Valentine Holmes,” Matty Johns said.
“Hasn’t his season come to life. Since coming back from the NFL, he’s barely taken a shot.
Gorden Tallis believes Holmes has rediscovered his running game from central position.
“He’s had a few lower leg injuries, but his powerful running game is coming back,” Tallis said.
“Against Brisbane it was a great battle with Kotoni Staggs and he scored points.
“Every week you can see his running game coming back. This is the part of Val Holmes that we love.
Matty Johns believes Holmes has lost muscle and weight since his NFL days and it has helped his form.
“We did an interview with him when he came back from the NFL and I was shocked at how much muscle he had,” Johns said.
“I think he looked like he put on about seven kilos of muscle. It doesn’t matter if you put on five kilos of muscle because it’s still weight you have to carry.
“Rugby league is not a straight line and if you carry six or seven kilos more, you are going to feel it.”
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STARLING SHOWS THE RAIDERS WHAT THEY’RE MISSING
Tom Starling started the season behind Josh Hodgson and found himself coming off the bench at times, but he showed his class in a rare start in 2022.
Starling’s run game was in song against the Cowboys and he was untouched on his first down of the game under the posts.
“Starling comes back in the middle and he will score intact,” said Warren Smith.
“He went straight between the bookends. No one has put a glove on him and he scores as easily as that.
Greg Alexander believes Starling has the ability to dominate as a starting No.9 when his attacking group advances.
“Starling is very quick around the ruck,” Alexander said.
“If he stands up against a big man and he did on this occasion. Tossed the dummy to the left and backed up to the right.
“It was Hess and Taumalolo and they just can’t match him in terms of speed.
“Tom Starling came off the bench for the Raiders to start tonight with Frawley out of the side.
“That’s what Starling brings to this side, a bit of speed around the ruck.”
Michael Ennis praised Starling for his offense and defense on a brilliant night for the hooker.
“It was supposed to be a quick start and it was a great first half from the Raiders,” Ennis said.
“Starling off the back of a really powerful start tore them to shreds down the middle.
“He went through Jason Taumalolo and Coen Hess.
“Tom Starling is one of the most dangerous models in competition.
“Due to the lack of possession and the number of errors the Raiders made in the first five weeks of the competition, we really haven’t seen that side of Tom’s game.
“But tonight the Raiders are in control and Starling was electric at the back.
“I was also impressed with his defence. He has great technique. Big shots under the ball.
“His try was a big moment for the Raiders and the team hung on.”
Starling finished with 47 yards running, one tackle bust, one line break, 51 tackles and one try in a stunning display on a beaten team.
The Raiders and Cowboys are hoping to bounce back this weekend and move out of the two-game winning group.
The Cowboys reshuffled their squad with Jordan McLean and Tom Gilbert dropping to the bench and Reuben Cotter and Heilum Luki taking their places in the starting squad.
The pair sit on four runs in a six-club group, with the Cowboys desperately close to recording their third win of the season in Round 5 against the Warriors, losing to a field goal by Shaun Johnson.
Although there has been speculation about the return of Raiders veteran Jarrod Croker, with Matt Timoko being a chance for a late exclusion with a back injury, Sebastian Kris is now the likely option after Croker was left out of the team.
Young gun Xavier Savage is one to watch in the utility role, and coach Ricky Stuart will be looking to inject his pace and sparkle into the game against a tired Cowboys defensive line.
Meanwhile, Todd Payten’s men will be hoping to improve in defence, with the undesirable statistic of having the most missed tackles with 164, the same number as the Sydney Roosters.
Hitting and sticking will be crucial against Ricky Stuart’s Raiders who lead the competition in offloads, recording 13 more than second place with 76.
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