North Queensland forward Coen Hess admits injured skipper Michael Morgan will be missed but has backed young playmaker Jake Clifford to step up in his absence.
Gold Coast have made no secret of the fact that they will target the Cowboys’ young halves after Clifford was called up to replace regular No.7 Morgan and partner Scott Drinkwater in Friday night’s NRL clash in Townsville.
Hess admitted it would be a huge ask to replace Morgan, who is expected to miss the next month after undergoing shoulder surgery during the NRL’s coronavirus shutdown.
“Morgo will be sorely missed. He is our captain for a reason,” he said.
“His leadership on the field is second to none and he steers us around the park really well.
“We will certainly miss him but we have a task at hand and we have to go out there and do it.”
Certainly there are big shoes to fill for 22-year-old Clifford, who has 21 NRL games to his name after being overlooked for the 2020 season’s first two rounds.
But Hess believed Clifford was ready for the challenge.
“It’s exciting, a good opportunity for Cliffo to come in and take the reins and Drinky is an excitement machine,” he said.
“Hopefully us forwards can lay a platform and let them do their thing.”
Cowboys coach Paul Green didn’t seem fazed by the Titans putting a target on his young halves.
“Not really, it doesn’t change what we do,” he said.
“It just gives us a bit of information about where they think our weaknesses might be.
“They (halves) will work it out. They know what their jobs are. If everyone does that the result looks after itself.”
Green said he had no hesitation thrusting Clifford into the NRL deep end in Morgan’s absence.
“I think he has a good skill set. For him it is about taking that next step,” he said.
“We are not expecting big plays, he just needs to do his job, do it well and take his opportunities when they come his way.
“He’s got a good running game, great kicking game. He’s just got to get used to that week in, week out at NRL level.”