Thurston praises ’the future of the Cowboys’
JOHNATHAN Thurston has earmarked rookie playmaker Jake Clifford as the future of North Queensland after the four-time Dally M Medal winner savaged his own form.
Thurston missed a staggering seven tackles and made three errors in North Queensland's 24-10 loss to St George Illawarra at 1300SMILES Stadium on Saturday night.
The Cowboys co-captain was upstaged by livewire Dragons fullback Matt Dufty and struggled to pierce the Dragons' desperate defence.
North Queensland is locked in a three-way battle to avoid the wooden spoon, anchored to 15th spot on the ladder on 10 competition points with Canterbury and Parramatta.
Thurston's final NRL season has turned into a nightmare and the two-time premiership winner has just six weeks left to salvage something from the debacle of 2018.
Thurston, 35, said his defence had failed, but the Cowboys had a bright prospect on their hands after the 20-year-old Clifford made his debut at five-eighth.
"I defensively wasn't up to standard and really put us under the pump by simple one-on-one misses," Thurston said.
"I've got a lot of work to do.
"(Clifford) was on debut and calling the shots. He's still plying his trade. He's still young and certainly got a big future ahead of him.
"He's had a really good season at Intrust Super Cup level and was really good in the under-20s for the Maroons.
"No doubt he's the future of the club.
"I thought he handled himself extremely well."
Clifford is set to retain his spot for Friday night's clash with Newcastle and will partner Thurston for the remaining six matches of the season as he presents his case to play alongside Michael Morgan in the halves next year.
Morgan will miss the remainder of the season with a bicep injury and Cowboys coach Paul Green said he wanted Clifford to step up alongside Thurston.
"His debut was good but I would have liked to have seen him get a little bit more involved to be honest," Green said.
"He's got a good kicking game and we saw parts of it. As he grows in confidence he will get himself in the game a bit more too.
"He's got to get his big boy voice out and get the ball."
Clifford grew up in Tully in north Queensland and has been a standout for Northern Pride in the Intrust Super Cup this year.
He was man-of-the-match in Queensland's under-20s Origin win against New South Wales recently, prompting Green to give him a crack at the NRL.
"Hopefully I'll get another crack this week," Clifford said.
"I thought I took a backward step too much and hopefully next week, if I get a crack, I'll be a bit more dominant.
"Getting to train with (Thurston) each week, you learn something new all the time.
"He's always competing and he's always on the ball. It's something I have to work into my game.
"I feel I faded away in some parts of the game. Hopefully I can stay in the game longer and help Johnno out with last play options."