Cowboys young gun gets Green light
COWBOYS coach Paul Green has challenged returning five-eighth Jake Clifford to make his mark against a Cronulla outfit that will include Paul Gallen at 1300SMILES Stadium for the last time.
Clifford makes his return to NRL following Green's team overhaul in the wake of last week's heavy defeat to the Broncos, and Clifford's kicking game could prove decisive in what is expected to be a grinding, wet-weather game.
The Tully junior will also be tasked with easing the burden on Cowboys captain Michael Morgan, who copped a shoulder knock last week while being hunted by the rampant Broncos.
"He (Clifford) has got both a long and short kicking game, and that will take a bit of pressure off 'Morgs' and make us a bit harder to predict around last tackle," Green said.
"I also want consistency (from Clifford) and I want to see him stay in the game.
"In the lower grades I think he has some good involvments, and then he'll have some involvements where he does drift out of the game, even at that (Queensland Cup) level.
"That's part of his development and part of his learning.
"If he's going to be dominant, I'm not going to stop him from doing that - particularly if he's playing really well and keeping pressure on the opposition.
"For him it's more about playing for the full 80 minutes because at NRL level you can't clock off or drift out of the game, especially in the position he plays."
Clifford will have an individual match-up with New Zealand international Shaun Johnson, who bounced back from a mixed debut with the Sharks in Round 1 to help steer his team to a 14-point win over the Titans.
"He (Johnson) is still feeling his way into how they want to play, which is understandable, but in his own right he's a great player," Green said.
"He's skilful, he's got speed and footwork and a good kicking game too, so he's certainly a threat for them."
The biggest test for the Cowboys could be the upfront battle that lies in store.
Trampled by the Broncos last week and losing star forward Jason Taumalolo for 6-10 weeks, the Cowboys will lock horns with a Sharks pack led by Gallen, who has become a Queensland 'public enemy' thanks to his career as a Blues' enforcer.
Gallen will move past Sharks icon Andrew Ettingshausen as Cronulla's most capped player in tonight's clash when his plays his 329th first-grade game.
"At Origin level in particular he's been a public enemy I suppose, but that's part of what makes him a great player," Green said.
"He's a competitor and I think (we should) enjoy the competition while the game's on, but also show him respect for what he's contributed to the game as well."
Getting through the likes of Gallen, Andrew Fifita and Matt Prior will also help jettison the pain of last week's Brisbane loss
"After the game my comments were around we probably physically weren't ready for the contest, so that kind of stings guys sometimes," Green said.
"So whether or not that's motivation we'll see Saturday night, but hopefully we'll see a bit of a different Cowboys' team."