Clifford gets real kick out of cracking Cowboys
There is an opportunity for Jake Clifford to prove he is not just a Michael Morgan replacement - he is out to show he must be in the team each week.
The 22-year-old Cowboy took the reins in the No.7 jumper against the Gold Coast Titans on Friday night, putting on a clinic with the boot to highlight his ability to control the game.
It was his combination with Scott Drinkwater that was cause for excitement. As much of a loss as Morgan is as both a leader and attacking threat, the signs were there that North Queensland were in good hands.
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Clifford overcame his initial disappointment at not being picked in the starting 17 when the pre-season ended. He did not kick stones, he got to work.
And now he says the challenge is on to consistently deliver what he did on Friday night and continue to lead the Cowboys around the park.
"I was a bit disappointed with Round 1, not getting to play at the new stadium against the Broncos," Clifford said.
"But I thought I played pretty well in the QCup that week and then COVID came in and all of a sudden the competition stopped.
"I put work in during the break ... Drinky and I go out a bit earlier at training and lock in where we want to end our sets.
"We had a lot of footy together in the pre-season and got to play the Nines together, so it's not like we were unfamiliar with how we play footy.
"I can call a lot more of the shots and when he plays his natural footy, he's destructive. We complement each other ... the biggest challenge is to do it again."
To deliver on that consistency, Clifford has identified some areas in his game where he feels improvement is needed.
While his kicking game was crucial in the 36-6 win, forcing repeat sets regularly to keep the pressure on the Titans, Clifford said his next challenge was to find an extra edge by backing his running game.
But it was not just his combination with Drinkwater that had him excited for the future. The whole spine showed enough flare to promise of things to come.
Reece Robson's brace of tries out of dummy-half added an extra dimension, while Valentine Holmes had a hand in three tries.
Holmes will come up against his former club, Cronulla, this weekend, and Clifford said the former Shark will play a vital role if the Cowboys are to notch their third win of the season.
"He played really good game on the weekend and showed the class he has, the quick hands he has ... I'm excited to keep working with him," Clifford said.
"Just give him the ball early. He brings a whole new dynamic to how we want to play."
Originally published as Clifford gets real kick out of cracking Cowboys