Tully Tigers and Innisfail Brothers Under 8s players with former Tully junior Jake Clifford who is now playing in NRL for North Queensland Cowboys. Photo: Antonette Milone.

Rising NRL star Jake Clifford recently returned to his hometown of Tully where he visited his former high school and footy club - and made made a surprise visit to watch Tully Tigers junior rugby league games.

The North Queensland Cowboys half provided great support and encouragement to the next generation of rugby league players during his time watching the games.

He was on hand to present Best and Fairest awards to Under 6 players William from Tully Tigers and Rick from Innisfail Brothers, as well as Under 8 players Saxon from Tully and Bamia from Innisfail.

Jake Clifford stopped in to watch Tully Tigers junior rugby league games where it all began for him and presented Best and Fairest Awards to Under 6s players Rick from Innisfail Brothers and William from Tully Tigers. Photo: Tully Junior Rugby League
Jake Clifford stopped in to watch Tully Tigers junior rugby league games where it all began for him and presented Best and Fairest Awards to Under 6s players Rick from Innisfail Brothers and William from Tully Tigers. Photo: Tully Junior Rugby League

Last year, Clifford played halfback for Northern Pride in Intrust Super Cup and was on track to be the competition's leading point scorer before a NRL call up late in the season.

In Round 19 last season, he made his NRL debut for North Queensland Cowboys in the halves against St George Illawarra, and this season has been a regular in the NRL side.

Clifford also stopped into Tully State High School and caught up with Geoff Moore who was his Physical Education teacher.

Mr Moore said Clifford was a typical young lad at school with a good bunch of mates who played footy, but even then, he knew he wanted to be a rugby league player.

Jake Clifford with a Tully Tigers junior player. Photo: Tully Tigers Junior Rugby League
Jake Clifford with a Tully Tigers junior player. Photo: Tully Tigers Junior Rugby League

During his senior years, Mr Moore started up a rugby league subject and Clifford was the first Year 12 to graduate with a Certificate II which involved First Aid, coaching and refereeing.

Mr Moore started this school subject to engage young boys in the community, not just as rugby league players, but also with them helping out with the running of carnivals at local primary schools.

Cowboys player Jake Clifford returned to his roots and spent time with Tully Tigers junior rugby league players. Photo: Tully Tigers Junior Rugby League
Cowboys player Jake Clifford returned to his roots and spent time with Tully Tigers junior rugby league players. Photo: Tully Tigers Junior Rugby League

Clifford played all his junior rugby league with Tully Tigers and experienced his first taste of A Grade at the age of 17.

He played one year with the team, something Clifford credits as being a huge step up playing against men and experiencing the high level of physicality.

NRL star Jake Clifford who has gone on to play at the top level spent time with players from his former Tully Tigers Junior Rugby League club. Photo: Tully Tigers Junior Rugby League
NRL star Jake Clifford who has gone on to play at the top level spent time with players from his former Tully Tigers Junior Rugby League club. Photo: Tully Tigers Junior Rugby League

Clifford said moving up the ranks to play in a high quality football team when he was so young was beneficial to shaping him as a player today.

Always a talent, he was selected for his first rugby league representative team while in primary school.

He comes from a passionate football family with the Clifford name synonyous with footy and Clifford said while he didn't feel any pressure, he wanted to do his family name proud.

Clifford paid tribute to his parents, Matty and Alison, who have been a tremendous support when he made the move from Tully to Townsville to play for Cowboys.

Mr Moore said he always knew Clifford would excel at rugby league but didn't know how far he would go.

"Jake showed extreme dedication to his sport and I knew when he was older he would play well and if the opportunity came along he would grab it with both hands," Mr Moore said. 

Last year, Clifford picked up the Intrust Super Cup Rookie of the Year award and was also named Cowboys Rookie of the Year.

Main image: Jake Clifford returned to his hometown of Tully and visited his former footy club where he caught up with Tully Tigers Under 12s team. Photo: Tully Tigers Junior Rugby League