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AJ Brimson in action for the Maroons under 20 team.

Maroons assistant coach Justin Hodges insists the addition of "future superstars" Jake Clifford and AJ Brimson to the 2019 Queensland Emerging Origin squad has come at the right time.

Four of Queensland's greatest players – Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston – have either retired from representative football or, in Thurston's case, hung up the boots.

The quartet was the backbone of the Maroons dominant spine and the Queensland brains trust is now determined to ensure they prepare for the next decade.

Clifford and Brimson, both just 20, made their NRL debuts for the Cowboys and Titans respectively and both have been identified as long-term members of the Maroons spine.

Brodie Croft is also making his first appearance in the Maroons emerging squad after playing a key role in steering the Storm to the 2018 grand final.

Established halves Ash Taylor and Corey Norman have been in Maroons camps previously and will join a 14-man squad which will go into camp on the Sunshine Coast in late January, a camp held in partnership with the Queensland Academy of Sport.

Jake Clifford playing for Queensland's under 20 team.
Jake Clifford playing for Queensland's under 20 team. ©NRL Photos

Hodges coached Brimson and Clifford in this year's champion Queensland under 20s side and said their arrival could not have come at a better time.

"They are obviously our future superstars and what they have been able to do so far early in their career is phenomenal," Hodges told

"Sometimes you get kids who think they know it all but the good thing about AJ and Jake is that both of them are willing to listen and learn.

"Scott Prince worked with both of them in our 20s camp and he can't speak highly enough of them as well.

"You look at the players we've turned over in the key positions with Billy and Cooper both retired, JT gone and Smithy as well. All of our spine is gone so now it is important we spend time with our young spine coming through so that we develop them and give them the right information."

Clifford impressed in his short stint in the halves alongside Thurston in 2018 after a man of the match display for the Queensland 20s and strong displays for the Northern Pride in the Intrust Super Cup.

"With Jake Clifford playing alongside Johnathan Thurston this year that would have helped him develop his game," Hodges said.

"The way he played in the under 20s was a class above and getting the chance in first grade will see him develop further under Paul Green, and JT will still have a bit to do with him up there."

Brimson, on the road to recovery from shoulder surgery, played at both fullback and five-eighth for the Titans this year where he was a dynamic presence.

"We've all seen what AJ Brimson can bring. I've had him in my 20s side the last two years and seeing the difference between last year and this year has been unbelievable, just his attention to detail, the way he trains and the development of his football brain," Hodges said.

Hodges said Brimson handled both positions with distinction but suggested fullback was his best spot for now.

Queensland Emerging State of Origin Squad 2019: Joe Ofahengaue, David Fifita, Jaydn Su'A (Brisbane Broncos), Ashley Taylor, AJ Brimson, Phillip Sami, Brenko Lee (Gold Coast Titans), Jake Clifford, Nene Macdonald, Kyle Feldt (North Queensland Cowboys), Christian Welch, Brodie Croft (Melbourne Storm), Tautau Moga (Newcastle Knights), Corey Norman (Parramatta Eels), Rhyse Martin (Canterbury Bulldogs).

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