Clifford's NRL season over but big matches on horizon
Cowboys rookie Jake Clifford has been dropped but it's got nothing to do with playing poorly. Quite the opposite.
The young gun playmaker, who was named in the No.19 jersey for North Queensland's final game of the season, will play in the Intrust Super Cup for the Northern Pride this weekend.
Cowboys coach Paul Green expects Clifford will get more out of leading the Pride in a finals series, where he has been instrumental to their success this season.
"He's played well, I think this has been a good exercise for him, his first couple of games he was probably learning about what playing NRL was all about and he's improved the longer he's been here and I think it's been a really good learning curve for him," Green said.
"I think also part of that development is for him to go back and help steer an Intrust Super Cup team through a finals series as well, I think that could be just as beneficial for him."
While Clifford has been good for the Cowboys and has been improving week by week, Green always intended to give him the opportunity to lead the Pride through some high-pressure games.
"That was always part of my plan… that if the Pride made the semis I'd like him to have a role in that," he said.
Green's decision was also made easier by the players he had available in the halves and at fullback, with Te Maire Martin moving to five-eighth while Ben Hampton will play fullback again, after a strong performance in the custodian's role against the Eels last weekend.
"Te Maire is the incumbent New Zealand five-eighth so it's not like he's losing his position to a mug," Green said.
"[Ben Hampton] was very good at the back there for us so that did make it easier for me."
With Hampton's performance throughout the year, and particularly in the closing rounds of the season, Green said Hampton had a chance to put his hand up for a starting spot in 2019.
"I think Ben would like to secure a starting spot somewhere, he had an opportunity there at the start of the year and showed some glimpses of some really good footy."
"He just had to cut some of the errors out which he probably did last weekend and played well for us."