Canberra are in the NRL's top four after smashing North Queensland 30-12 in Townsville.
The Cowboys had promised a better start than their error-laden capitulation a week ago to Cronulla but failed almost immediately to deliver.
"It was a pretty messy game from both sides," Raiders coach Ricky Stuart told AAP.
"If we don't prepare the way we prepared, we would have lost that game. The Cowboys were under pressure but they were probably a little bit worse than us."
Raiders winger Nick Cotric scored in the first five minutes before his partner Jordan Rapana crossed in the next set, courtesy of a dropped ball by North Queensland's Javid Bowen.
The hosts finally managed to get on the board in the 31st minute after captain Michael Morgan offloaded close to Canberra's line into the waiting arms of second-rower Gavin Cooper but it was a only a brief respite.
With three minutes to go in the half, an audacious pass from Canberra's Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad found Rapana who kicked in-field to Joseph Leilua. The centre did incredibly well to juggle the ball into his hands for the Raiders' third try of the half.
Facing the prospect of a 1-3 start to the season, North Queensland returned a slightly more settled side in the second stanza.
They scored 14 minutes after the resumption via another offload from Morgan to utility forward John Asiata who cut the deficit to six points.
But that would be as close as they would get; utility forward Mitch Dunn spilt the ball coming out of the Cowboys' end which Canberra captain Jarrod Croker gleefully turned into a four-pointer.
The final nail came two minutes from fulltime after another dropped pass from which Rapana scored his second try three tackles later.
Cowboys coach Paul Green threatened sweeping line-up changes after the loss.
"Now's not really the time to be talking about positions," Green told AAP.
"But I will say you can't keep throwing up performances like that and expect to keep your spot."
The Cowboys are back at home on Friday to host undefeated Melbourne, while the Raiders return to Canberra for a clash Sunday week with Parramatta.