Fantasy cash cow watch: Jake Clifford

North Queensland have lost one of rugby league's greatest playmakers in Johnathan Thurston but a potential long-term replacement has emerged in the shape of young halfback Jack Clifford.

The question for NRL Fantasy coaches is whether this is the year that Clifford will make his mark on the Telstra Premiership.

Positives

Clifford was the man of the match in the Junior Kangaroos' 40-24 win over the Junior Kiwis in October and at the age of 21 he already has half a dozen NRL games under his belt.

He averaged 38.7 Fantasy points a game alongside Thurston in 2018 and would have averaged 46 in the Intrust Super Cup for based on his Northern Pride stats.

Clifford has a break even around 30 and could potentially be used as the Cowboys' chief organiser alongside gifted ball-runner Michael Morgan in the halves. He's also been described as "a very good goal kicker" by coach Paul Green.

Negatives

Will he play? Te Maire Martin is the more senior option to replace Thurston but Martin may be used at fullback now that Ben Barba is no longer at the club although Green has other options for the No.1 jersey in Ben Hampton and Carlin Anderson.

All the potential in the world will count for nothing in Fantasy if Clifford starts 2019 as the back-up to Martin and barely plays any first grade.

Those 2018 performances in the NRL also means Clifford doesn't come as cheap as other young halves at the start of the new Fantasy season.

To buy or not to buy?

The pre-season should make it clear which way the Cowboys are planning to go with their halves in round one, but Green has been conservative with his line-ups in the past – his starting team was close to unchanged for three years following their premiership win – so that counts in Martin's favour.

If Clifford plays at the start of the season he's going to be hard to leave out of your starting squad, but if not he's too much of a gamble unless you expect the Cowboys to change things up early.

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