North Queensland Toyota Cowboys Under-20s coach Aaron Payne has warned his side about a united Storm front at AAMI Park on Saturday afternoon.
The in-form Cowboys are chasing a third straight National Youth Competition victory when they are hosted by the Storm in Round 15 action.
Coming off their best win of the season – a 40-4 triumph over the Eels away – the NYC Cowboys are full of confidence but Payne knows the danger of their opposition this weekend.
“Like their NRL team, the young Storm side play for each other and are very united in what they do,” Payne said.
“They are rarely heavily beaten and are always in games so we’ll have to concentrate for the full 80 minutes.”
Payne said having first-choice halfback Jake Clifford – recently signed to a two-year NRL deal with the club – back from injury in the past fortnight was a huge boost for the team.
“It’s no coincidence that we’re back to winning games with Cliffo back in the team,” he said.
“He’s a smart half, a good defender and combines well with Mitch (Dunn, team captain) in the halves.
“We didn’t expect to have Kalyn (Ponga, NRL-contracted player) at this stage of the season either, so that’s a huge boost for us too.”
Notwithstanding the stunning 84-point turnaround from when they first met the Eels in Round 9, Payne said the most pleasing aspect of the victory last weekend was the manner in which it was achieved.
“Sometimes you can get wins and not be at your best, but that wasn’t the case against the Eels,” he said.
“We were patient and simply took our opportunities. There were no forced passes.
“We never came down a level and that impressed me with this group.”
Despite Clifford and Ponga being on board, the young Cowboys will be without exciting outside back Murray Taulagi and interchange forwards Logan Bayliss-Brow and Kyle Paterson, the trio selected in the Queensland Under-18s team to play in Wednesday's Origin curtain-raiser.
“While you hope there’s no injuries out of the match, having these young blokes picked in rep teams is important in their development and hopefully they’ll bring some good things back from the experience,” Payne said.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 3.10pm at AAMI Park.