Cowboys winger Antonio Winterstein scores the winning try during the dying stages in Townsville. Click for more photos

Raiders run down by Cowboys

Cowboys winger Antonio Winterstein scores the winning try during the dying stages in Townsville. Photo: Getty Images

  • Cowboys winger Antonio Winterstein scores the winning try during the dying stages in Townsville.
  • Cowboys forward Matt Scott tries to push his way through the Raiders defence.
  • Cowboys forward Gavin Cooper crashes into the Raiders defence.
  • Raiders forward Paul Vaughan gets wrapped around the legs by Cowboys half Robert Lui.
  • Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt scores in the corner.
  • Raiders enforcer Josh Papalii crashes over to score.
  • Cowboys forward Jason Taumalolo gets tackled by Raiders youngster Shannon Boyd.
  • Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt scores in the corner.
  • Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt celebrates with teammates after his first half try.
  • Cowboys star James Tamou gets wrapped up by Glen Buttriss, no. 9, of the Raiders.

The NRL season is a marathon, not a sprint.

That's the message upbeat Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart delivered to his troops after it gave up a 16-point lead in a 28-22 round-one loss to North Queensland in Townsville on Saturday.

The players were shattered afterwards and skipper Terry Campese admitted they squandered a golden opportunity, but Stuart is adamant the new-look Green Machine needs only minor tinkering.

Canberra displayed teething problems expected of a young team in the loss, leading 16-0 before mental lapses cost it dearly.

Stuart certainly wasn't panicking, declaring his side ''beat itself'' and backed his revamped attacking structure to blossom over time.

''We had a different halves combination, different hooker combination and I walked away thinking we've really got something to work with here,'' Stuart said.

''My main message to the players was I don't want them to leave with their heads down.

''I had to say to them I need you to think about the positives more than the hurt of the loss.

''We beat ourselves in the second half, I don't see much there we can't fix pretty quickly.''

Canberra displayed more defensive role than it has in recent years, particularly early on their own line.

Campese rated the opening half-hour the best the team has played in some time, and was encouraged by the promise its new-look spine showed.

Jack Wighton was relatively quiet in his debut at five-eighth but had some solid touches, Anthony Milford was superb at fullback and Glen Buttriss and Josh McCrone combined well at dummy-half.

''Every loss hurts but I thought our first 30 minutes was outstanding, especially the way we defended our line under pressure,'' he said.

''The way we held our nerve was great, it just takes its toll if you keep giving possession to a side like that. It's two points we let slip away.''