2020 NRL Nines - Day 2
2020 NRL Nines - Day 2

Cowboys close to solving halves dilemma

NORTH Queensland coach Paul Green insists he hasn't settled on a five-eighth, but says Nines hero Scott Drinkwater is brimming with confidence ahead of the NRL season.

Drinkwater and Jake Clifford have been locked in a battle to partner captain Michael Morgan at North Queensland's scrumbase this season.

Drinkwater edged ahead in the race after a sensational Nines in Perth where he was named player-of-the-tournament as North Queensland was crowned champions.

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Drinkwater, 22, arrived in Townsville from Melbourne last season but suffered a pec injury in the pre-season and missed the first half of the season.

He made 10 appearances at fullback for the Cowboys late in the year, but the arrival of Valentine Holmes has pushed him out of the No.1 jersey for 2020.

Drinkwater missed North Queensland's trial loss to Melbourne last Saturday with what Green described as a minor pectoral injury.

Green said he hadn't settled on a five-eighth for North Queensland's blockbuster Round 1 showdown against the Broncos in Townsville on Friday week, but praised Drinkwater's emergence.

Drinkwater impressed during the Nines. Photo: James Worsfold/Getty Images
Drinkwater impressed during the Nines. Photo: James Worsfold/Getty Images

"I haven't been back to Townsville since our trial," he said in Brisbane on Monday.

"We've got to sit down and pull the game apart and see what we think our best 17 is to go into that Broncos game.

"If it was a bigger game or competition match he would have played, but there's no point taking any risks at this stage.

"Anyone who knows Drinky, one thing he doesn't lack is confidence, but he's taken that into his game and is prepared to back himself. He really took those (Nines) games by the scruff of his neck, backed himself and got some good footy on."

The former Storm player looks eager to step up. Photo: Alix Sweeney
The former Storm player looks eager to step up. Photo: Alix Sweeney

Clifford played 15 games in the halves last season and partnered Morgan against the Storm on the weekend.

But the form Drinkwater showed at the Nines would be difficult for Green to ignore when the season proper gets underway.

The Cowboys need some strike on the back of two poor seasons where they finished 13th and 14th.

Clifford looks to have slipped behind in the battle. Photo: Stewart McLean
Clifford looks to have slipped behind in the battle. Photo: Stewart McLean

Their pre-season preparations last year were hampered by the Townsville floods and sacking of star recruit Ben Barba, with Green saying the lead-up to 2020 had been much smoother.

"It's been as good as we could hope for," he said.

"We've had some good training and a lot less disruptions than last year. We've certainly got what we wanted out of the trial matches and Nines so far."