North Queensland Cowboys training from the Townsville Sports Reserve. Te Maire Martin. Picture: Zak Simmonds
North Queensland Cowboys training from the Townsville Sports Reserve. Te Maire Martin. Picture: Zak Simmonds

Green hints at Thurston’s halves replacement

COWBOYS coach Paul Green has given the clearest indication yet as to who will replace Johnathan Thurston in the halves next season, saying Te Maire Martin has "his nose in front" of rising star Jake Clifford.

Michael Morgan is set to take the reins as North Queensland's chief playmaker following Thurston's retirement, but Martin and Clifford are still battling it out for the vacant five-eighth role.

Martin was a mid-season recruit from the Panthers in 2017 and he couldn't have timed the moved better, joining the Cowboys in the same week as Thurston suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.

 

The 23-year-old combined brilliantly with Morgan to spark North Queensland's miraculous run to the grand final, but he struggled to have the same impact last season.

Martin spent most of his time as bench utility along with stints at five-eighth and fullback and Green believed the New Zealand international would benefit from having a more defined role.

"He's training really well, Te Maire, and it's a big year for him," Green said.

Te Maire Martin. NRL; North Queensland Cowboys pre-season training at Townsville Sports Reserve. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Te Maire Martin. NRL; North Queensland Cowboys pre-season training at Townsville Sports Reserve. Picture: Alix Sweeney

"I think the last time we had 'JT' not playing through injury, he did a really good job.

"For 'Morgo' and him, if they can get back to that combo that they were forming through there (in 2017) then that's what we're aiming for.

"That's probably the most consistent he's played for us during that year, but I think also the fact that he could get his head around where he was playing each week.

"There was a bit of consistency from a preparation point of view so that certainly helped him and that'll be the case next year too."

Jake Clifford. NRL; North Queensland Cowboys pre-season training at Townsville Sports Reserve. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Jake Clifford. NRL; North Queensland Cowboys pre-season training at Townsville Sports Reserve. Picture: Alix Sweeney

Clifford looks destined to become an NRL star after his man-of-the-match performances for the Queensland under-20s and Junior Kangaroos last season.

The 20-year-old was also named rookie of the year in the Queensland Cup after starring for the Northern Pride and took out the same honour for the Cowboys for his six games at NRL level.

Green welcomed the healthy competition in the halves, but he felt Martin's experience could just give him the edge over Clifford come their season opener against the Dragons.

"I think he's probably got his nose in front a little bit at the moment, but but we all know what Jake can do and he's working hard also," Green said.

"That healthy competition amongst your group is important."

Head Coach Paul Green with Mackay Cutter Coach Steve Sheppard. NRL; North Queensland Cowboys pre-season training at Townsville Sports Reserve. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Head Coach Paul Green with Mackay Cutter Coach Steve Sheppard. NRL; North Queensland Cowboys pre-season training at Townsville Sports Reserve. Picture: Alix Sweeney

Whoever wins the race to partner Morgan, the Cowboys are still set for a revamp in 2019 with a new-look squad including fullback Ben Barba and forward Josh McGuire.

High-flying winger Kyle Feldt also recently spoke of North Queensland's desire to play more attacking football, believing they had become too predictable as they finished 13th last season.

Green's assessment of their game plan wasn't quite the same as Feldt, but the coach did say the Cowboys have had a greater focus on executing their skills during the preseason.

"You take a guy like Johnathan Thurston out of your team and then to say that you're going to play a more expansive game it probably doesn't really add up, but we've had a strong focus on skill and then also trying to execute that when the opportunity arises," Green said.