Clifford: ‘The challenge is to do it again’
THERE is an opportunity for Jake Clifford to prove he is not just a Michael Morgan replacement - he is out to show he is a must-pick each week.
The 22-year-old Cowboy took the reins in the No. 7 jumper against the Gold Coast Titans, putting on a clinic with the boot to highlight his ability to control the game.
It was his combination with Scott Drinkwater, and the manner in which they combined, 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.
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 team around the park.
"Not going to lie I was a bit disappointed with round one 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 did do 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 consistent, Clifford has eyed off some areas in his game where he feels improvement is needed.
While his kicking game played a crucial role in the 36-6 win, forcing repeat sets regularly to keep the pressure on, he said his next step was to back his running game and find an extra edge that way.
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 to the game, while Valentine Holmes laid a hand in three tries.
Holmes will come up against his former club Cronulla this weekend - a team Clifford said he is yet to beat.
In order to get the Cowboys off to a three win start for the season he said the point of difference the star fullback offered could go a long way to that success.
"He's a very good player, if he's a long way from his best I'm pretty excited to see that," Clifford said.
"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.
"Just give him the ball early. He brings a whole new dynamic to how we want to play.
"As a team in general we have to all look up and see where the space is and that starts from the hooker. If we're not talking and they're not listening we won't get the ball."
Originally published as Clifford: 'The challenge is to do it again'