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Cowboys halfback Jake Clifford.

Cowboys coach Paul Green was satisfied his team answered the knockers by proving their passion for the club in an enthusiastic 32-20 win against Newcastle.

Coming into the match after three losses, including a heavy defeat to Wests Tigers last week in which they conceded 34 first-half points, Green acknowledged a barrage of criticism had been fair.

He was chuffed with how North Queensland hit back.

They bounced out of the blocks to steamroll the Knights, who were second before this round, and lead 26-0 at half-time at Queensland Country Bank Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Match Highlights: Cowboys v Knights

"I'm extremely proud because a lot of people had a lot of questions over us and rightly so. Our performance wasn't acceptable last week," Green said.

"But if you really care then where you show it is out on the paddock and we did that today. We were completely dominant in that first half.

"I said all the way through the week that it's not about winning and losing. Newcastle are a good side – we could play well and get beaten by Newcastle. It wasn't about 'we've got to win to show we care', it was about how we play.

"I thought we showed desperation, urgency, willingness to pay a price for your teammate. And that's what we saw out there today for most of the game. You look at the score and you think they clocked off in the second half, but Newcastle are a good side."

Feldt flies high in the Townsville sunshine

Front and centre of the upset was Cowboys playmaker Jake Clifford. He scored a wonderful individual try, set up another with a kick, and ran for 106 metres in a terrific display.

Clifford, who has been deputising in the No.7 jersey for injured captain Michael Morgan, has still only played 26 NRL matches.

Green understands the challenges of being a first-grade halfback better than most, having represented his state and country in his heyday, and was pleased with the 22-year-old's progress.

"I thought he was in the game for longer. He's a good young kid, a good player, but been guilty – as most young guys are, it's not just Cliffo – they drift in and out of the game," Green said.

"And he's learning. I thought today was a good step in the right direction for him. I was really happy for him.

"[His improvement is down to] a bit of confidence, it's a bit of getting used to [NRL]. It's a tough position to play, halfback, not many people can pick it up straight from their first game so to speak."

The coach stressed that it was an impressive team performance that earned the result.

Clifford carves up the Knights

The Cowboys now sit on the edge of the top eight and have injured stars Morgan, Valentine Holmes and John Asiata yet to return.

They face a daunting period with matches against the Eels, Roosters, Panthers, Sea Eagles and Raiders ahead.

Green said keeping the intensity up will be crucial.

"Highlighting the effort [is key]. There was effort out there from everyone and there was a willingness to help your teammate … That's what we need," he said.

Acknowledgement of Country

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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