Te Maire Martin (right) made a brilliant first impression with the Cowboys. (AAP: Dean Lewins)
The Cowboys have dominated a hapless Raiders side, with halves Michael Morgan and Te Maire Martin starring in the team’s 31-18 win.
The Cowboys signed 21-year-old Martin after Johnathan Thurston was ruled out for the season and the newbie scored two tries in his club debut, both of which came off Morgan offloads.
Morgan also crossed for a double as he pushed for a first start in the Origin decider, while the Raiders’ 2017 season continued to unravel at a freezing Canberra Stadium, with last year’s preliminary finalists displaying a lack of discipline and poise.
Temperatures were hovering around freezing for most of the night in the capital and, despite the home-ground advantage, the Raiders slumped to their seventh loss in the past nine games.
They were lucky to open the scoring through Elliott Whitehead in the third minute on Saturday night, after the bunker missed an apparent knock-on by Jordan Rapana in the lead-up.
The advantage did not last long though, as Martin capitalised on a strong run and offload by his halves partner to score.
It marked his return to form after a promising start to his NRL career had been curtailed by a shoulder injury in Penrith last year.
A try to Antonio Winterstein and a Lachlan Coote field goal allowed the visitors to take a 13-6 lead to the break.
Joseph Tapine started the second half in perfect fashion for the Raiders, but Morgan’s second-half double and a late Martin try propelled the Cowboys to their fourth win from their past five games.
Things could be about to get worse for the Raiders, with captain Jarrod Croker suffering what looked like a serious knee injury and Joey Leilua possibly facing time on the sidelines after being sent to the sin bin for a late-game elbow on Kyle Feldt.
The brain explosion came after he last week cursed out five-eighth Blake Austin on the field, as things go from bad to worse for Canberra.
Sharks make a statement
Cronulla made light work of the Roosters in Gosford, running in seven tries to win 44-12 and leapfrog them for second spot on the ladder.
Every member of the Sharks’ back five crossed, with Ricky Leutele going over twice, but the best moment of the day was enjoyed by veteran back-rower Luke Lewis.
With the game already decided, the 33-year-old swooped on a lazy pass by Roosters dummy half Jake Friend and flew 85 metres to touch down under the posts, outsprinting a flying Latrell Mitchell in the process.
James Maloney’s perfect day with the boot was the only thing stopping the scoreline being identical to the demolition by Melbourne — the team Cronulla beat in last year’s grand final — in Brisbane on Friday night.
Wade Graham led the way with two try assists and 108 metres in what was easily the Sharks’ best performance of the season.
With Roosters and Blues skipper Boyd Cordner sitting on the sidelines, Graham proved he was ready to answer the call should he be drafted into the Blues’ starting side for State of Origin III.
Weary Warriors lose after leading 16-0
Manly is up to third spot on the ladder after holding on for a tight 26-22 win over the Warriors over in Perth.
The Warriors, making the longest trip the NRL has to offer, fell just short in a battling effort in the West Australian rain.
The New Zealanders shot out to a 16-0 lead thanks to tries to Bodene Thompson, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, but could not keep it up.
Five straight tries by Manly, including a double to Tom Trbojevic, coupled with strong defence held off the Warriors, who finished with a flourish led by elusive half-back Shaun Johnson.