Clifford leads the way in QLD breakthrough
After patiently waiting as 18th man for Queensland Residents just a few weeks ago, Jake Clifford made the most of his opportunity to finally slide on the Maroons jersey, steering the state to a ground-breaking 30-12 Under 20s victory.
The result marked the first time since the Under 20s fixture began in 2012 that Queensland ended on the positive side of the ledger.
It was fast, frantic and – at times – feisty football as the best young players from the two states went head-to-head.
With the cooperation of NRL clubs the two sides were peppered with players on the fringe of first grade, including Northern Pride spearhead and future North Queensland Cowboys talent Clifford.
While not wanting to overstate just how much impact one player can have in a team performance, it was a standout contribution from the young halfback.
Clifford had started the match in the worst possible manner, kicking out over the sideline on the full.
It put the Maroons on the back foot immediately and New South Wales dominated territory for the first few minutes of the game as the home side compounded their fortunes with back-to-back errors.
Somehow though, Queensland became the first to score as Clifford slid over from close range in the 7th minute.
The Blues deserved a share of the spoils and got it when Brian Too scored a spectacular somersaulting try in the corner that had to be applauded, no matter which team you barrack for.
After being arguably Queensland's best in the opening exchanges, hooker Harry Grant then gave away a penalty for a late tackle on NSW kicker Kyle Flanagan and the visitors levelled at 6-all.
With 10 minutes left in the first half, rampaging lock Corey Horsburgh crashed over and the Maroons took a 12-6 lead into the break, with Clifford converting both tries.
While the Tully Tigers product is known for his sharp attack, Clifford also shone in defence and made a tackle just on halftime which stopped a much bigger opponent from crashing over.
Similarly in the second half he was the first to pursue kick chases and helped trap NSW in goal at a juncture when the game was still in the balance.
It's likely those contributions will be valued just as much by his coach Justin Hodges as his second try in the 38th minute, and a sublime cut-out pass that put Tristan Sailor across in the corner.
Clifford also featured in the lead-up to a try by centre Kurt Wilshire as the Maroons notched four tries in succession to clinch the contest.
In the dying minutes Gold Coast Titans and Tweed Heads Seagulls playmaker AJ Brimson pounced on a loose ball in-goal, but the try was disallowed for Queensland impeding the defence.
New South Wales scored a consolation try two minutes from fulltime via winger Billy Smith.
Man of the match honours were unsurprisingly awarded to Clifford.
QUEENSLAND U20: 30 (Jake Clifford 2, Corey Horsburgh, Kurt Wilshire, Tristan Sailor tries; Jake Clifford 5 goals) def NEW SOUTH WALES U20: 12 (Brian Too try; Kyle Flanagan goal) at Suncorp Stadium.