North Queensland has claimed a third consecutive victory under coach Todd Payten by rallying from 18 points down to topple Canberra 26-24 in Townsville.
In Saturday’s earlier match, Canterbury celebrated its first win of the season, an 18-12 defeat of Cronulla in Kogarah.
The Cowboys turned around a 24-6 deficit, largely through the efforts of fullback Valentine Holmes and outstanding decision making by five-eighth Scott Drinkwater,
The loss heaps more pressure on Ricky Stuart’s Raiders, who recorded a third straight loss.
The Cowboys’ achievement after starting the season with four losses is the more meritorious as they are still without injured marquee man Jason Taumalolo.
Drinkwater is stepping up in the halves following the injury-forced retirement of star Michael Morgan.
Regaining some of his best form, Holmes ran for a team-high 184 metres, while Drinkwater bagged two try assists, with his kicking game keeping the Raiders on the back foot throughout the second half.
But it was the Cowboys’ second-half defensive effort that had the fans in raptures, keeping the Raiders scoreless after they had run in four first-half tries.
After trailing 24-12 at half-time, the Cowboys came out of the blocks with a point to prove and they scored first after a break by Holmes forced another attacking set, with Reece Robson able to jink from the ruck to extend and score in the 43rd minute.
The Cowboys continued to ride their momentum as fatigue crept into Stuart’s side, and their grit was rewarded when Drinkwater kicked through the line from 10 metres out with Justin O’Neill able to gather for the try.
Holmes added the extras, leaving the score 24-24 with 20 minutes to go.
The Raiders had their chances to pull ahead in the final stages but some gutsy defence from Connelly Lemuelu kept Jarrod Croker out, before North Queensland ventured down the field and earned a penalty.
Holmes stayed perfect off the boot with his 15th successive successful kick at goal putting his side ahead 26-24 with 10 minutes to play.
The home side was then able to grind out the dying stages of the match to earn a famous victory.
In the first half, both teams struggled early and it took the Raiders 15 minutes to crack the Cowboys defence, a simple through the hands to the left edge putting Jordan Rapana over from Elliott Whitehead’s pass.
The Cowboys hit back four minutes later through winger Kyle Feldt, and were unlucky to not go ahead when Coen Hess fumbled over the line.
Emre Guler was next to score for the visitors taking the score to 12-6, before a simple play-the-ball error gave the Raiders a prime attacking opportunity and a cutout pass by Jack Wighton found Rapana on the left edge for his second try.
The Raiders scored their fourth when hooker Tom Starling broke through on halfway then linked with a supporting George Williams who streaked under the posts.
A 24-6 scoreline appeared to have the Raiders sitting comfortable approaching half-time but a smart grubber by Drinkwater just before the hooter put Ben Condon in for a try.
Bulldogs hold off Sharks for first win
Canterbury has finally claimed its opening win of the season and been the first team to use the 18th man in its victory over Cronulla.
The Bulldogs survived a second-half onslaught from the Sharks, including a 34-7 disadvantage in second-half plays inside their 20-metre zone.
They also had to withstand a furious finish from the home side, who had pulled within six points when winger Mawene Hiroti crossed with four minutes remaining.
In the end the Bulldogs held on to claim their first win since last September and the first under coach Trent Barrett, however the game will likely be remembered for another reason.
Almost three weeks after the NRL rushed in a rule that allows teams to bring in an extra man should they lose a player for the game due to foul play, Matt Doorey was floored in the first half.
The Bulldogs forward was left concussed after a shot from Cronulla second rower Siosifa Talakai, who collected the Bulldogs forward under the chin and was sin-binned.
Teams can also call on the 18th man should they lose three players to concussion.
Barrett did not call on 18th man Brandon Wakeham until the 76th minute.
The contest in front of a crowd of 7,420 spectators, also marked the anticipated return of Shaun Johnson, who looked sharp but failed to take advantage of a glut of field position in the second half.
Johnson, coming off an Achilles injury, was substituted after an hour.
An upset loomed the moment Josh Dugan was left stranded by Will Hopoate for opening points in the fifth minute, a missed tackle compounded by his dropped ball to gift Nick Cotric a second try.
Completing the perfect start was a well-executed set play for Nick Meaney that gave Canterbury a three-try advantage, but also kickstarted a flurry of fiery exchanges.
Bulldogs half-back Kyle Flanagan was penalised for obstruction from the ensuing kick-off — a ruling unsuccessfully challenged — before he pulled off a try-saving tackle on Teig Wilton.
That lit the fuse for the visitors, with Talakai attempting his audacious shot that concussed Doorey.
It was the flashpoint of what was a frustrating half for the Sharks, who were denied six tries for the night and were booed off by their home fans at the break.