Round 3 match of the NRL Telstra Premiership between the North Queensland Cowboys v Cronulla Sharks from 1300 Smiles Stadium, Towsnville. Cowboys Jake Clifford. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Round 3 match of the NRL Telstra Premiership between the North Queensland Cowboys v Cronulla Sharks from 1300 Smiles Stadium, Towsnville. Cowboys Jake Clifford. Picture: Zak Simmonds

Morgan backs young gun to keep halves spot

MICHAEL Morgan has backed young gun Jake Clifford as his long-term halves partner despite a quiet return in Cowboys colours in Saturday's 42-16 thrashing against the Sharks.

Clifford was called up from the Northern Pride as part of a reshuffle to the Cowboys' spine, but the changes failed to pay off as Cronulla blew them out of the water in the second half.

The Cowboys went into the break with a 10-6 lead before errors killed their momentum as the Sharks piled on five tries in just 18 minutes including a double to centre Josh Morris.

Clifford was solid in the first half and showed a willingness to take the line on, but he struggled to have the same impact as his flashy six-game stint alongside Johnathan Thurston last season, particularly with his kicking game.

Cowboys coach Paul Green was vague when asked about Clifford's performance after the game, describing it as "not surprising" while saying it was too soon to comment on selections.

Round 3 match of the NRL Telstra Premiership between the North Queensland Cowboys v Cronulla Sharks from 1300 Smiles Stadium, Towsnville. Cowboys Michael Morgan. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Round 3 match of the NRL Telstra Premiership between the North Queensland Cowboys v Cronulla Sharks from 1300 Smiles Stadium, Towsnville. Cowboys Michael Morgan. Picture: Zak Simmonds

"There were times there when he could've showed a bit more urgency, but I'm not picking on 'Cliffo' there. I think across the board we all needed to show a bit more urgency at different times," Green said.

Morgan said he and Clifford had few chances to work on their new combination when the Sharks got on a roll in the second half and he felt the Tully product deserved another shot at NRL level.

"At times I thought it was OK. If you judge the first half and the second half they're quite different," Morgan said.

"I thought we built into the game nicely through the first half and finished well, but then the second half we didn't have too many opportunities to put too much shape on.

"It wasn't anyone's best night and he'll be better for the run."

Morgan's previous halves partner Te Maire Martin was shifted to fullback against the Sharks and produced a try when he chased down his own kick to give the Cowboys the halftime lead.

Round 3 match of the NRL Telstra Premiership between the North Queensland Cowboys v Cronulla Sharks from 1300 Smiles Stadium, Towsnville. Cowboys Te Maire Martin is tackled by Sharks Josh Morris. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Round 3 match of the NRL Telstra Premiership between the North Queensland Cowboys v Cronulla Sharks from 1300 Smiles Stadium, Towsnville. Cowboys Te Maire Martin is tackled by Sharks Josh Morris. Picture: Zak Simmonds

Martin still had a mixed night in the No. 1 jersey as he completely misjudged a Shaun Johnson bomb just before the break, but Morgan felt their new-look spine was worth persisting with.

"I think he (Martin) is a real threat at the back," Morgan said.

"He's a very natural footballer so if he sees space he's good at getting the ball and playing into it.

"His kick returns were good, he created a couple of opportunities for us, and I think he's going well there."

Green said confidence had been an issue for his side with so many new combinations, but he believed it was something that could continue to work on.

"It's important we try and get some confidence amongst the team and that didn't help there in that second half obviously," the coach said.

"We need to get down to some hard work and be prepared to play for 80 minutes and show a little bit more resilience when something goes against us."

News Corp Australia


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