Written by Joshua Dean
Cowboys wonder kid Jake Clifford once looked certain to become a star in the NRL.
However, in two seasons, he has only played 21 first grade games. His situation is becoming more and more like his mentor Jonathan Thurston’s was at the Bulldogs. JT played only 29 games for the Bulldogs from 2002-2004. He was then offered a massive contract by the Cowboys and the chance to cement himself as a starting first-grade player.
Even though Jake Clifford still has a contract with North Queensland until 2021, he has to start thinking about other options out there. He is in a very similar position to Thurston was and it is becoming more obvious that he may have to leave the Cowboys to reach his full potential. Many see Clifford as a future rep player, so moving clubs and getting an opportunity to lead a side could have a similar effect that it did for Thurston.
The Cowboys have strong depth in the halves with captain Michael Morgan leading the team around the field. His partner for the 2020 season has been Scott Drinkwater, who is the same age as Clifford and has also shown incredible potential. It seems that he is favoured by coach Paul Green, which means it is going to be incredibly difficult for the Tully Tigers product to cement a spot in the halves at the club. Even when Morgan has been injured Green has experimented with powerhouse John Asiata in the five-eighth position.
Immortal Andrew Johns believes one club who should have a serious look at the former Junior Kangaroos captain, is the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs after telling NRL on Nine: “If I was them, I’d be going out and buying the best young half, Jake Clifford from the Cowboys, he isn’t getting a start, so I’d be going out and getting him.”
— NRL (@NRL) August 8, 2019
The Bulldogs are in a rebuilding phase and could start building their side around Lachlan Lewis and Jake Clifford in the halves. This would mean not resigning Kieran Foran, a likely scenario considering his injury problems. Clifford would be doing the opposite of what JT did, moving from the Cowboys to the Bulldogs.
Going to the Belmore based club would be a win-win situation for all involved, however, there are a couple of other clubs that could chase Clifford.
Benji Marshall is at the back-end of his career and the Wests Tigers may be looking for a new half to partner Luke Brooks. He could become the new face of the Tigers in a new era post-Benji.
Then you have the Gold Coast Titans who could bring Clifford in to join Ash Taylor in the halves and move Tyrone Roberts to the bench playing more of a utility role which wouldn’t do them any harm.
Regardless tho, Jake Clifford should be playing first-grade football in a starting role. Whether it be waiting it out at the Cowboys, hoping for an injury, or getting an early release to become a new hope for a struggling club, he needs to play full-time in the NRL.
Hopefully, he makes the right decision, and he lives up to his potential, like his mentor JT did.