CANBERRA will limp into a date with the Melbourne Storm juggernaut following a 30-12 loss to the Cowboys and a knee injury to star centre Jarrod Croker.
North Queensland scored the third victory of their NRL campaign, after they led 16-6 at half-time.
A try to halfback Michael Morgan in the 64th minute made it 22-6, but Canberra's penchant for miraculous escapes became a topic of interest when Jack Wighton crossed in the 70th minute after the home side failed to tidy up a kick at the back.
An Ashley Graham try - his 100th in first grade - seven minutes later sealed the result.
Canberra captain Terry Campese said a scrum feed decision that went the wrong way was costly after his men stemmed the early Cowboys stampede.
''We built our way back into the game in the second half and then there was that little kick where they knocked into touch and got the feed,'' Campese said.
''That's a massive call. It's frustrating being out there, you put in the effort to get back into the game and then a call like that goes against you.''
Coach David Furner lamented: ''We seem to defend better when we're fatigued.
''We've probably learned our lesson. We've given a couple of teams a good start and we've been able to pull them back in. Not tonight.''
Raiders officials said Croker had suffered a strained medial ligament in his left knee which was hopefully not serious. Croker is, however, in extreme doubt for next Saturday's encounter with undefeated leaders the Storm in Melbourne.
Coach Neil Henry said the Cowboys seemed to be on the right track after a slow start to the season.
Neither Furner nor Campese would offer any thoughts on whether their opponents had re-emerged as a premiership threat.
''They're out of the way, we've got to think about Melbourne now,'' Campese said. ''Melbourne are, what, seven wins in a row? We have to be a lot better than we were tonight to get a win down there.''
Canberra looked set for a pasting when the Cowboys scored three tries in the opening 16 minutes, with the Raiders staying in touch by virtue of an intercept try off a Matt Bowen pass to winger Edrick Lee. AAP