Townsend kicks Cowboys past resilient Raiders

Todd Payten has described his side's performance as "Jekyll and Hyde" after Chad Townsend kicked a field goal five minutes from time to edge North Queensland past Canberra 19-18 in a see-sawing NRL round-one contest in Townsville.

The Cowboys dominated the first half but watched their 18-0 lead evaporate in the wake of three unanswered tries from the Raiders before Townsend kicked them home.

"Bit of a Jekyll and Hyde performance," coach Payten said.

"A lot of control in that first half, we had a lot of possession ... and then start of the second half I challenged the players to go seven from seven and put the risky plays away and it didn't happen.

"The Raiders played really gritty, (they are a) tough team. They played well and should be disappointed."

With the clock ticking down, Harley Smith-Shields' error on a short-side play gifted the Cowboys a scrum in midfield and on tackle four Townsend made no mistake from 20 metres to kick his side to a winning start to 2023.

Townsend's kick salvaged a disastrous second half for the home side, who capitulated offensively and offered the resilient Raiders a way back.

North Queensland had dominated the opening period, playing with patience, confidence and spark to gain territory and possession.

That swagger quickly disappeared after the break with consecutive errors within five minutes. The Raiders wrangled momentum with hard, straight running and short passing from contact to wear the Cowboys down.

Tom Starling made the most of a deflected kick to score Canberra's second try in the 53rd minute before Kyle Feldt's spilled ball off a short drop-out gifted Jack Wighton their third.

That made it three unanswered tries from the visitors, with Jamal Fogarty nailing a sideline conversion to tie the game at 18-18 with 20 minutes remaining.

The players were out on their feet in the sticky Townsville conditions but it was the Cowboys who coped best in a manic finish to end Canberra's four-year round-one winning streak.

"The way we fought back - the boys have got a very proud coach and we've got a lot to work off," Raiders mentor Ricky Stuart said.

"I can't believe how well the boys prepared ... but we didn't get the points and that's the disappointing part. But we've got something to work with here."

It took North Queensland 15 minutes to open their 2023 scoring account after enjoying 73 per cent possession and forcing 17 tackles inside the Raiders' 20m zone.

Murray Taulagi grabbed North Queensland's opener with a left-hand diving finish, before Scott Drinkwater added a second following a deft inside grubber kick by Townsend.

The fullback bagged his second, and the Cowboys' third, when Reece Robson grubbered by the posts for a somersault put-down.

Robson registered just one kick in 2022 and had a try-assist with his first attempt in 2023.

Emre Guler scored just prior to halftime in Canberra's first and only opportunity in North Queensland's red zone.

The Raiders' Jordan Rapana was not cited by referee Adam Gee for a shoulder charge on Drinkwater but is likely to face the match-review panel over the 27th-minute incident.