Maroons under 20s claim historic win over Blues
Queensland may be missing Johnathan Thurston and friends like nothing else at senior level, but his Cowboys protégé Jake Clifford has spearheaded a drought-breaking 30-12 Maroons thumping of NSW in the under 20s State of Origin.
The Blues came into the contest having never lost seven previous interstate clashes at 20s level, with all eyes on Cronulla prodigy Kyle Flanagan given his record-breaking exploits in last year's Holden Cup.
Instead it was Clifford who stole the show at Suncorp Stadium, finishing with 18 points, two individual tries thanks to his explosive running game and a hand in two others.
With a direct line to North Queensland skipper Thurston, Clifford has put himself in contention for player of the year honours in the InTrust Super Cup with feeder club Northern Pride, while his star showing for Queensland 20s will only heighten calls for a first grade debut with the Cowboys out of finals contention.
Hailing from the tiny town of Tully in the state's north, Clifford re-signed the Cowboys until the end of 2020 earlier this year, and looked a class above as Queensland ran in five tries to two in an emphatic victory.
It was Clifford who fired the first shot, scything through the Blues right edge from close range after NSW had dominated early proceedings.
With a slew of mistakes in their red zone, Queensland gave NSW ample opportunity to square up.
Panthers flyer Brian Too did exactly that and then some, taking out a cameraman with a spectacular touchdown in the corner after Flanagan created an overlap.
Flanagan missed the resulting sideline conversion, but knocked over a simple penalty for a 6-all deadlock soon enough.
The Blues were exposed badly on their own line after 24 minutes though, with Raiders lock Corey Horsburgh strolling through a yawning gap to touch down under the posts.
With a 12-6 halftime lead the Maroons were morals to extend it almost immediately after the break, only for winger Murray Taulagi to spill a Corey Allan cut-out pass with a try on offer in the corner.
Clifford's second came in almost identical fashion to his first, the Maroons half speeding past Roosters youngster Sean O'Sullivan from 10 metres out.
A simple try to Cowboys teammate Kurt Wiltshire sealed the result with 25 minutes to play.
Clifford then rounded off his five-star showing with a pinpoint ball for Tristan Sailor to touch down in the corner before the Blues jagged a late consolation try to centre Billy Smith.