Trial Takeaways: Hess hobbled by serious knee injury as sluggish Cowboys claw past Raiders

The NRL trial program is coming to a close on Sunday with Canberra hosting North Queensland at Queanbeyan before the Titans and Parramatta lock horns at Ipswich.

Here are the key takeaways in the final pre-season action before Round 1 kicks off at the end of next week.

Raiders 26, Cowboys 36

Hess injury takes gloss off comeback win

Canberra have been tipped to be strugglers in 2024 and the Cowboys are considered finals candidates and even with the usual caveat that comes with trial form, if you were judging the teams for most of the 80 minutes, particularly the first half, at Seiffert Oval on Sunday, then you would be forgiven for thinking the opposite predictions were true.

North Queensland did enough in the second half to run out unimpressive winners as Canberra coach Ricky Stuart cycled through his bench while Todd Payten kept many of the Cowboys’ big guns on the field.

Experienced forward Coen Hess went off with a knee injury and there are fears he has done significant damage with the Cowboys star to get scans on Monday to determine the extent of the damage.

Coen Hess is tackled by Canberra Raiders defenders. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

The Raiders rested first-choice halfback Jamal Fogarty for Round 1, giving Ethan Strange and Kaeo Weekes a shoot-out for the No.6 jersey left vacant by Jack Wighton’s switch to South Sydney.

Strange came up with a smart solo try to open the scoring when he kicked in behind the line to regather before Weekes hoisted a high kick which Kyle Feldt fumbled for Xavier Savage to touch down.

Feldt made amends when he collected a Scott Drinkwater cut-out pass to score North Queensland’s first try before Raiders centre Matt Timoko stood up opposite number Valentine Holmes from a scrum win to restore Canberra’s momentum.

Oh wow, Timoko scores a solo effort ????

???? Watch #NRLRaidersCowboys on ch.502 or stream on Kayo:

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) February 25, 2024

Cowboys centre Zac Laybutt touched down after Drinkwater made the most of a stretched defensive line to cut the deficit to 14-8 at half-time and the scores were level five minutes after the restart when Murray Taulagi scooted down the left flank after a Thomas Mikaele bust.

Mikaele staked his claim for a spot in the 17 for the Round 1 trip to Brisbane against the Dolphins when he crashed over under the posts to give the Cowboys the lead after Griffin Neame reeled in a Chad Townsend bomb into the sun.

With the Cowboys keeping their main players on the field, Drinkwater exploited a weakened defensive line to send another pinpoint pass over to an unmarked Feldt for his second.

Strange spent a spell in the sin bin ater flipping Mikaele onto his head in a three-man tackle which could cost him the halves gig for Round 1 if the match review committee comes down hard on him.

A rough end to a great showing from the young halfback ????

???? Watch #NRLRaidersCowboys on ch.502 or stream on Kayo:

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) February 25, 2024

Despite being a player down, the Raiders cut the gap to six with Nick Cotric muscled his way through the defence midway through the second half.

Cotric then gifted the Cowboys the ball from the kick-off by catching it mid-air before landing over the dead-ball line and Feldt felt the joy of a hat-trick from the ensuing set to make it 30-20.

Raiders forward Peter Hola powered through a Jack Gosiewski tackle to bring the home side within striking distance heading into the final eight minutes.

They had a chance to snatch victory in the 76th minute after a long break downfield but rookie playmaker Adam Cook panicked as the cover defence converged with a woeful kick to save the Cowboys’ blushes.

Mikaele thumped the Steeden over the stripe in the closing stages to record an unlikely hat-trick for a front-rower who has not scored a try in 67 NRL appearances.

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