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Cowboys youngster Mitchell Dunn.

After a 2018 season in which he moved from being a half to a forward, young Cowboy Mitchell Dunn is ready to push for a regular starting NRL berth – alongside former halves partner Jake Clifford.

The former North Queensland under 20s halves pairing won't be sharing playmaking duties following Dunn's shift to the back row last pre-season but they could be sharing the field come round one.

The 21-year-old got two games off the bench, in rounds 13 and 19, as injury and Origin wrecked the Cowboys' forward stocks mid-season.

Clifford came in for round 19 following a season-ending injury to Michael Morgan and gained invaluable experience alongside the now-retired Johnathan Thurston in six NRL starts.

On the first day back at pre-season training, Dunn told it was about this time last year a move from the halves to the pack was mooted.

"It was pretty much just through the pre-season last year, I always knew I was slowing down a bit and wasn't quick enough to be in the halves so, through the pre-season, a couple of weeks in I started changing into the forwards," Dunn recalled.

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"By Christmas, I was training in the back row and getting used to it and I played my first NRL footy in the back row last season."

There were major changes around diet and training to adapt to.

"I think I started last year's pre-season about 96 kilos and played at 100 last year so I had to put on a few kilos and had to get the body right because you do a lot more tackling and running, tackling big guys. That was the hardest part for me," Dunn added.

"It was hard last year but I feel a lot better for it. I know what I've got to do. I've had a little taste of [NRL] and I really want to get there.

"I just physically want to get ready first and get my body right to play first grade. Trying to get into the 17 anywhere I can, you want to be a part of that team, it wouldn't bother me what number I put on my back, I'm just going to try to get a spot."

While Dunn was reluctant to talk up his own chances, he was more than happy to sing Clifford's praises.

"I played a lot of junior footy with him. He had a shoulder injury in 20s, played his first bit of 20s footy last year [2017] and didn't take a step backward," Dunn said.

"He did really well [in 2017] then the year just gone now he stepped up to [Intrust Super Cup] Q-Cup and pretty much did the same there, picked up everything he learned off JT and Morgs and hasn't put a foot wrong, he's playing really good footy and training really hard so it's a credit to him.

Cowboys forward Mitchell Dunn.
Cowboys forward Mitchell Dunn. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

"There will be a fair bit of competition there throughout this pre-season to see who's going to nail down those two spots.

"Come trial time it will be good to see who steps up to cement a spot but I think Cliff will do really well after those six games of NRL he played. He'll be able to use that to come into pre-season to try and cement that spot as his.

"He's definitely up to it, it just depends who Greeny [coach Paul Green] wants to put there. Te Maire [Martin] is a really good half as well and he was playing really good footy last season."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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