Johnathan Thurston's final season with the Cowboys has not gone as predicted. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)
Johnathan Thurston's final season with the Cowboys has not gone as predicted. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Cowboys could draw on young guns

THE Cowboys could use the remaining weeks of a horror season to usher in a new generation of talent after suffering their heaviest defeat in more than four years at Canberra on Saturday night.

North Queensland trailed 14-12 with 16 minutes left before capitulating 38-12, their worst loss since a 42-12 drubbing against the Raiders in round 11, 2014.

Now second last with seven rounds left, coach Paul Green indicated on Sunday that several young guns - headed by Queensland under-20 trio Jake Clifford, Murray Taulagi and Kurt Wiltshire - could get their NRL chance.

Halfback Clifford in particular has been outstanding in his first Queensland Cup season with Northern Pride, and was named man of the match after his two-try display led the baby Maroons to a victory on Wednesday.

Outside back Taulagi has also been strong for the Pride, while centre Wiltshire has been a standout for the bottom-of-the-table Mackay Cutters.

"You don't want to do it for the sake of making change, but if the opportunity comes up where we can give those young guys a taste of NRL, I think it's a good time to do it," Green said.

"There's some guys who played well in the Maroons twenties on Wednesday night. They're not the only ones who are in the mix."

Jake Clifford has been a standout in the Cowboys' lower grades. Pic: Stewart McLean
Jake Clifford has been a standout in the Cowboys' lower grades. Pic: Stewart McLean

Asked about Clifford's hopes of being blooded, Green said: "He's certainly had a good year and done everything asked of him at Q Cup level, he's developed nicely.

"We talked at the start of the year about learning how to be a good halfback, to control the game and kick well, and I think he's done that.

"He's learning that part of playing halfback really well, and he's doing it against men which is a good sign."

Wiltshire and Taulagi have a huge opportunity to kick the door down given several veteran Cowboys outside backs are off contract at the end of the year, including Antonio Winterstein, Kane Linnett and Javid Bowen.

Clifford is in the Cowboys top 30 squad, but the club may have to seek second tier salary cap clearance to blood Taulagi and Wiltshire.

Paul Green and Johnathan Thurston are looking for answers. Pic: Alix Sweeney
Paul Green and Johnathan Thurston are looking for answers. Pic: Alix Sweeney

"Wiltshire's been a pretty consistent performer for Mackay in a team that hasn't been going that well," Green said.

"He's a guy that we might have a look at, but then again you have to look at the salary cap rules which may stop us from doing that."

Green was particularly disappointed with his team's meek finish against the Raiders after they defied a lack of possession to remain in the game.

The Cowboys conceded some woefully soft tries, included four where they failed to diffuse kicks and another when Canberra winger Michael Oldfield scored one pass off a scrum 10 metres from his own try line.

"I was probably more disappointed this week with our effort, in particular," Green said.

"We did well to put ourselves in a position where we could have finished the game, but I thought our effort really dropped away toward the back end and we conceded some soft tries which disappointed me.

"Even though we hadn't been winning the last six weeks I thought we were competing all the way through, and we just didn't quite finish that game off.

"We want to be known as a team that competes and that's important for us for the rest of the year, then of course there's JT's (Johnathan Thurston's) last few games.

"It's important we send him out in a way he deserves."