Clifford closing in on debut as Green keeps eye on future
Cowboys coach Paul Green is keeping one on 2019 while trying to juggle the weekly demands of winning as the team looks to get the most out of the remaining seven rounds of the Telstra Premiership.
Green has made limited changes to the side that was beaten 38-12 by Canberra last Saturday but he seems set to tinker with his line-ups more and more in the coming weeks with young playmaker Jake Clifford a strong chance to get game time in the top grade.
Shane Wright is out due to injury and Justin O'Neill has come onto the wing for Antonio Winterstein for this Saturday's home fixture against St George Illawarra.
"I was [tempted to make changes] it's probably at that point where we're keeping one eye on next year, but we also need to make sure we're playing to win this week as well," Green said.
"Without worrying about finals or anything like that, you still want to play well each week, so I think whilst part of it is developing for the future, you also need to pick a team that you think can get the job done."
"We're playing the Dragons on the weekend who have been one of the form teams of the comp, so we want to roll out our strongest team possible."
One seemingly inevitable inclusion in the side is Clifford, the young half who picked up man-of-the-match honours in Queensland's State of Origin under 20s win over NSW with two tries.
Green is happy with Clifford's season in 2018, but wants to wait for the right time to hand the 20-year-old his NRL debut.
"He's done everything asked of him so far this year so it would be great if we could give him an opportunity in first grade at some stage this year," he said.
"We haven't trained yet, it's hard to say if [he'll play] at this stage, I won't say it's out of the question but at this stage it's probably looking unlikely until we get back on the paddock and do some training."
Green believes O'Neill has regained some of his spark since his recent stint in the Intrust Super Cup playing with the Townsville Blackhawks.
"I think for him it was probably more of a confidence thing when he went out of the side, I think playing back there they've had a couple of good wins, getting that winning feeling back," he said.
"I've noticed a difference in the way he's trained, and so hopefully he'll enjoy his footy a bit more."