The North Queensland Cowboys have taken another step towards preparing for life after Johnathan Thurston by extending the contract of promising young halfback Jake Clifford until the end of 2020.
With Michael Morgan set to be the number one playmaker in 2019, the Cowboys believe they have two solid young halves in Clifford and Te Maire Martin to support Morgan in the post-Thurston era.
Clifford, like Thurston, is also an exceptional goal kicker.
The 20-year-old was the NYC player of the year in 2017 and has been playing for Cowboys feeder club Northern Pride in the Intrust Super Cup where he received the ultimate praise from an opposition coach.
Ipswich Jets co-coach Shane Walker called NRL.com last week to tell us Clifford was a player of rare talent after the Jets had just beaten the Pride.
”Clifford’s the best half we’ve coached against in the Intrust Super Cup since Daly Cherry-Evans was at the Sunshine Coast in 2010 and Ben [Walker] and I were assistant coaches at Ipswich,” Walker told NRL.com.
”We were more worried about Clifford than Todd Carney. We identify a couple of threats in the opposition and do video with our players how to counteract it. At the end of the video I said to Ben ‘we haven’t showed the boys anything on Carney’. It was all Clifford.
”We contained him but during the game it was evident how many strings to his bow he has. When we’d make a break he’d get himself in perfect position and he stopped at least two tries just because he is such a fast thinker.
”Every single play you can see his eyes scanning the field for numbers and an opportunity, and that is the hallmark of the best halves like Andrew Johns, Alfie Langer and JT.”
Cowboys general manager of football Peter Parr said the fact Clifford was yet to play in the Telstra Premiership was no reflection on the high esteem he was held in by the Cowboys.
”I think everyone is clear on our club’s views in that we don’t like to push our young players too quickly,” Parr said.
”We like to show some patience and let them learn their trade as good as they can before they come into the NRL. He plays in a key position and we hope he forges a long career with us.
”He’s come through our development system at the Northern Pride and into our NYC team where he was the competition’s player of the year in 2017. Jake has stepped up into the Intrust Super Cup this year and acquitted himself well so far.”
Walker said Clifford possessed Thurston-like qualities which augured well for a long future in the game.
”Often times when halves get inside pressure they step back inside, but Clifford is comfortable with that pressure,” Walker said.
”Thurston, when his game is really on, gets that inside pressure and puts on his show and go. He chases his own dummy and goes through the gap and Clifford does the same thing. Clifford’s mine is very sharp and he gets himself in position to counteract the opposition.
”On one occasion [Ipswich winger] Wes Conlon came out of dummy-half and looked like he was about to kick a 40/20, but put a little grubber through instead. Clifford had already started to run to get himself in position before Wes had kicked it, and that awareness is another Thurston trait.”