Valentine Holmes played a stellar role in giving the Cowboys an upset 26-24 win over the Raiders at Queensland Country Bank Stadium on Saturday night.
Relishing his role at fullback, Holmes seemed to be everywhere and in everything. He ran for 193 metres, busted out of seven tackles, made a line break, a try assist and kicked five goals to underpin the victory.
After stumbling into the 2021 season with four straight losses, the Cowboys now have a hat-trick of wins for the first time since round 10-12 in 2019, and they did it roaring back from 18 points down just before half-time.
“We just played the right way. It’s a pretty simple game when you hold the ball and put pressure on the opposition rather than yourselves,” coach Todd Payten said.
“If anything came out of tonight we’ve got the belief that we can actually hang in there when things are tough. It was an arm wrestle… we didn’t make an error, we stayed in the fight, and we came away with the chocolates.”
The Raiders are now officially in a mini-slump after successive losses to the Panthers, the Eels and now the Cowboys. A win would have propelled them back into the top eight.
The match began with tit-for-tat tries – Jordan Rapana off a nice Raiders left-edge move and four minutes later Kyle Fedlt from a slick right-side attack. That was the winger’s 31st try in 32 home games in Townsville.
The scores remained locked at 6-6 until Josh Papalii redeemed himself with a sneaky off-load, under the weight of two defenders, to help Tom Starling put Emre Guler over.
Papalii had been demoted to the bench and fellow international forward Joe Tapine dropped altogether by coach Ricky Stuart after the 35-10 pounding Parramatta handed out at GIO Stadium a week ago.
Rapana then scored his second in the same spot as his first, before a Starling bust upfield to put George Williams away had the visitors out to an 18-point lead.
But Cowboys second rower Ben Condon scored in the shadow of the half-time siren to give the home side a sniff at 24-12.
A determined Reece Robson barging his way over Cowboys early in the second half reduced the margin to just six points. The Cowboys were on a roll and had their home fans in full voice behind them.
Experienced centre Justin O’Neill chased down a Scott Drinkwater grubber to lock scores up 24-24 with 20 minutes to play.
A Holmes penalty was his 15th goal in a row and gave his side the lead for the first time in the match – in the 69th minute.
Payten said the win was more pleasing than the previous two over the Bulldogs and Wests Tigers.
“I’ll take them anyway they come but tonight was a far better performance because we played the game the right way,” he said.
Payten now has a nostalgic round coming up – travelling down to Gosford to play the Warriors, who he coached and lived with in camp on the NSW central coast after head coach Stephen Kearney was sacked last June.
Source: NRL (National Rugby League)