How Cowboys young gun is helping Val stay fit
He's one of the youngest players in the North Queensland Cowboys' NRL squad but Jake Clifford is doing his bit to help keep the club's six-million-dollar man in peak condition.
The 22-year-old Tully playmaker has been hitting the training paddock with prized fullback recruit Valentine Holmes during the NRL shutdown, as the pair look to maintain their fitness and skill level in the absence of regular team training.
"We got given sessions before we left the club but the fields have been locked off so me and Val have been going together a bit," Clifford said.
"He lives up the road from me so I just give him a text and we'll meet up for a bit of a running session, then we might go into some kicking and I'll put up some bombs for him, and some conversion kicking as well, just so we're under a bit of fatigue.
"We're just doing the things that we would be doing in the normal season and keeping up on things so when we do come back we're ready to go."
Holmes joined the Cowboys on a six-year deal worth a reported $5.8 million in his return to rugby league in the off-season, after spending a year with the NFL's New York Jets.
He made his NRL debut in 2014 and played 105 games for the Cronulla Sharks over five seasons, culminating with a drought-breaking premiership in 2016 - the club's first and only premiership in its 52-year history.
A State of Origin star for Queensland, with eight tries in five appearances, and a veteran of 13 Tests for the Kangaroos, Holmes was considered one of the game's supreme talents when he left the Sharks to pursue his NFL dream in 2018.
Now back in the NRL and in his home region, Holmes is looking to regain the form that took him to an Australian jersey in a breakout 2016 season, where he scored 19 tries in 23 games.
After a strong off-season, he played his first game in Cowboys colours in a trial match against the Broncos at Cairns' Barlow Park.
He looked good in his 30 minutes on the field in the Cowboys' 18-16 win, and made an official return to the field in Round 1.
Clifford, meanwhile, came through the Northern Pride's junior development system but has been unable to score regular game time in the NRL.
A Tully Tigers junior, he joined the Cowboys in 2017 and played for the club's NYC side that year, where he was named 2017 Dally M NYC Player of the Year.
He made his NRL debut against the Dragons in Round 19, 2018, alongside Cowboys legend Johnathan Thurston, but has struggled to cement his place as Michael Morgan's first-choice halves partner in his 21 games to date.
Clifford signed a one-year extension in the off-season, but was overlooked for the Cowboys' opening two games, before the NRL suspended its 2020 season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He hopes that training alongside one of the game's superstars can help him return to the starting 17 when the season recommences.
"I've really enjoyed the sessions we've been doing and we're getting a lot out of it," Clifford said.
"Hopefully we can return to footy soon."
The NRL's plan to restart the season on May 28 will clear it's final hurdle as early as today with the announcement of a new broadcast agreement.
Originally published as How Cowboys young gun is helping Val stay fit