Raiders 42 Cowboys 12
Canberra fullback Anthony Milford on the run against North Queensland. Photo: Getty Images
The Canberra Raiders scored seven tries in their thrashing of North Queensland on Sunday, but the biggest cheer was reserved for when Mitch Cornish ran on for his NRL debut.
And while the halfback's strong late cameo justified the hype, his veteran halves partner reminded critics he is not done with yet.
With the Raiders leading 18-12 early in the second half, under-siege skipper Terry Campese burst through the line to set up a try to Jarrad Kennedy.
Reece Robinson touches down for the Raiders. Photo: Getty Images
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||Wighton(2), Vaughan, Kennedy, Robinson, Croker, Milford||Tries||7||Tries||2||Players||Lowe, Rona|
|Players||Croker 6/7 (85%)||Conversions||6||Conversions||2||Players||Lowe 2/2 (100%)|
|Players||Croker 1/1 (100%)||Penalty goals||1||Penalty goals||0||Players|
|Players||Field goals||0||Field goals||0||Players|
Criticised for his reluctance to run in recent weeks, his teammates rushed to him in celebration as the Raiders snapped a three-game losing streak.
''That's why I appreciated it, mate. It has been a couple of tough weeks and I've had the support of the coaching staff and the players,'' Campese said.
''I don't look outside that group to be honest.''
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart praised the five-eighth's display after the match.
''The criticism the captain's copped has been quite frequent and some of it deserved. Campo knows that,'' Stuart said.
''But Campo showed everyone today, when he performs that way, the team is right behind him.''
Cornish was forced to wait 65 minutes on the bench before getting the nod from Stuart, but he showed exactly why the expectations of him are high.
The Goulburn product ran on to rapturous applause from the sparse 8412 crowd, most of whom have been desperate for the 21-year-old to get his crack.
He did not disappoint, the highlight his significant role in the final try to fullback Anthony Milford.
Cornish was forced to wait in the wings while Stuart experimented with Wighton at five-eighth for the first nine rounds.
Both players showed on Sunday they're now getting the mix right, with Wighton outstanding at centre.
''It [the crowd reaction] was pretty awesome. I tried not to smile really and just stay composed,'' Cornish said.
''In the second half I kept giving Ricky the look, when am I coming on?
''I probably wanted to play outside Campo because of his experience and leadership.
''Campo was awesome today, taking the line on and putting guys through holes.
''That was his best game of the season, I reckon. He proved a lot of critics wrong.''
Stuart added that the comfortable win was the ideal time to blood former NSW under-20s and Junior Kangaroos skipper Cornish.
''It was a nice way to ease him into the game,'' he said.
''He certainly had some support behind him there; it must have been half of Goulburn [in the crowd].''
Missing Origin stars Johnathan Thurston, Brent Tate, Matt Scott and James Tamou, the depleted Cowboys battled hard but a desperate Raiders proved too strong in breaking a three-game losing streak.
The Raiders (4-7) simply had to win to keep their slim finals hopes alive, and it was a timely confidence boost before a testing road assignment against the Roosters next week.
Canberra was missing only back-rower Josh Papalii to Origin duty, and its more settled line-up eventually told.
Jack Wighton was outstanding in his second game at centre since shifting back from five-eighth, scoring two first-half tries and throwing the final pass for two others after the break.
Wighton feels like the shackles have been lifted after moving back out wide.
''It's a little bit less pressure. I did cop a bit of flak here and there [at five eighth] but it's all part of the game,'' he said.
''We've been in a really dark patch, and we stuck together strong as a team.
''Even though they [Cowboys] had players out, it was about us and getting out of it.''
The Cowboys scored first through back-rower Ethan Lowe but the Raiders dominated the rest of the game.
An ill-disciplined North Queensland was its own worst enemy, giving away far too many penalties and commiting simple errors.
Even without Papalii, the hosts' right side terrorised the visitors all match, Wighton the major benefactor.
The loss was compounded for the Cowboys when enforcer Tariq Sims was placed on report for a lifting tackle on Shaun Fensom in the first half.
Cowboys stand-in captain Ashton Sims said their understrength squad was no excuse, North Queensland missing 29 tackles to Canberra's 18.
''Some of the stuff we did, myself included, it wasn't Cowboys 2014 football,'' he said.
''We're not using any excuse – Origin, injuries, nothing. There's getting it done and not getting it done, [and] we didn't get it done today.''