Cowboy backs young gun to fill Morgan void
NORTH Queensland utility Ben Hampton says the Cowboys are poised for a fast start when the NRL resumes and has tipped fellow Far North product Jake Clifford to stand up in the absence of skipper Michael Morgan.
Following two months of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NRL will resume on May 28 with the draw for the first two rounds released on Friday.
Under the reworked draw, the Cowboys will play their returning games against the Gold Coast and Cronulla.
Hampton, a Mareeba junior, believes the NRL team that "gets on with it the quickest" will be the one to beat in a likely shortened season.
"With this interruption, it's something the game's never seen before," he said.
"There's no trials, there's no practice matches, there's no nothing - there's three weeks of training and you're straight back into it, so the team that gets into footy and gets their game on straight away is going to put themselves in contention to do anything.
"We've still got a couple of week to prepare but I think we'll hit the ground running and start off pretty good, (with) the way we've started this mini-pre-season so far."
The Cowboys will restart their campaign with captain Morgan on the sidelines after the halfback underwent shoulder surgery during the break.
Tully junior Clifford is set to take his place in the halves after being overlooked for selection in the opening rounds.
Hampton said the 22-year-old returned to training in "good nick" and had been working hard.
"You always want to be playing first grade, so him not playing in the first couple of rounds, it definitely would've had some sort of effect on him," he said.
"It affects anyone, when that's your goal and you're not sort of getting there.
"When Morgo was having that operation, he knew he was the next one and he had to stand up.
"Seeing him start to stand up at training with the footy we've been doing this week, he knows he's going to be in that side and he knows he's going to have to lead the boys around and he's really starting to show that.
"He's been there before and he's played a fair few games now.
"He knows his strengths, we know his strengths, and we know he can step in there and do it."
Hampton said he couldn't wait to get back on the field after missing most of last season with a bicep injury.
The 28-year-old has played just two games in the past 12 months.
"It's been a bit wild but there's not much you can do it about it," he said.
"There's been lot go on, not just for me personally, but there's been a hell of a lot go on around the world.
"I'm just keen to get back into it and hopefully I can have good season and cement my spot again.
"I've gotta work hard again for the next couple of weeks but hopefully I am in that side to recommence the season."
■ Round 3: Broncos vs Eels, Cowboys vs Titans, Roosters vs Rabbitohs, Warriors vs Dragons, Sharks vs Tigers, Storm vs Raiders, Panthers vs Knights, Sea Eagles vs Bulldogs.
■ Round 4: Broncos vs Roosters, Panthers vs Warriors, Storm vs Rabbitohs, Eels vs Sea Eagles, Cowboys vs Sharks, Raiders vs Knights, Titans vs Tigers, Bulldogs vs Dragons.
■ A full season schedule will be released next week