The North Queensland Cowboys' Jake Clifford is rising fast. Picture: Zak Simmonds
The North Queensland Cowboys' Jake Clifford is rising fast. Picture: Zak Simmonds

Maroons under-20 star gets the nod for Cowboys

A STAR showing for the Queensland under-20s has Jake Clifford set to make his debut for the Cowboys against the Dragons tonight.

His two-try, man-of-the-match performance for the Maroons was enough to convince North Queensland coach Paul Green to blood the Tully Tigers product.

The 20-year-old looks set to debut off the bench, with Ben Hampton shifting to fullback and Lachlan Coote dropping back to Queensland Cup with the Mackay Cutters.

In a season to forget for the Cowboys, Clifford's rapid progression has been a highlight and he has spearheaded Northern Pride to fifth on the Queensland Cup table.

Green stopped short yesterday of rating Clifford a definite starter, but the youngster would seem set to play as a bench utility.

"I'd say more than likely (he'll play)," Green said. "We're just thinking it through - it's only a matter of time before he makes his debut with the year he's had.

"With the Dragons being one of the top teams you don't want to throw him into the deep end, but I've got full confidence if we go that way that he'll handle it.

"It's one of the best parts of the job (handing a player his debut). You see these young guys work so hard to get an opportunity."

A goal kicker, strong ball runner and a solid defender with a great kicking game, Clifford has all the assets to forge a long NRL career and is a huge chance of cementing a first-grade spot for next year following Johnathan Thurston's imminent retirement.

Clifford also took it upon himself to be a leader for the Queensland under-20s, who beat New South Wales for the first time last week.

"he's come back a lot more confident from that," Green said.

"I know it's only the under-20s, but Queensland hasn't won in a while and he was man of the match.

"All year he's done what's asked of him.

"We spoke about spending most of the year with the Pride, and he's done a really good job. He's got a bit of cheek about him too, which you want in your halfbacks."

North Queensland is in danger of winning the wooden spoon after Parramatta's win over Canterbury on Thursday night put the the Eels in equal last spot on 10 points with the Cowboys and Bulldogs.

Also on a four-game losing streak, the Cowboys are desperate to avoid five straight losses at home for the first time since 2008.