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Crafty and tough in equal measure, newly signed NRL squad member Jake Clifford has played a leading hand in guiding the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys Under-20s to a memorable 24-18 victory over perennial competition heavyweights Penrith this afternoon.

Halfback Clifford scored a superb try, laid on two others, was on song with his general kicking and piloted over all four of his conversion attempts in a brilliant sign for the future, given his new two-year NRL deal.

The skilful No.7 was far from a lone ranger in a masterful display from Aaron Payne’s men, who rallied from 12-6 down at half-time and 18-12 behind with 25 minutes remaining, to score an important win off the back of a disappointing last-gasp loss to the Storm in Round 15.

Today's game was a high-quality, low-mistake affair between two teams playing patient footy, with a nil-all scoreline holding until the 31st minute when the Cowboys’ defence finally cracked first.

It was to be the start of a frenetic seven-minute period where three tries were scored, including Clifford’s sublime take off a towering bomb.

The try just before half time would have been a huge confidence booster for the side, trailing 12-0 prior.

The home side struck first in the second through Nathan Traill before the visitors again went ahead 18-12 and the Cowboys had plenty to do.

But an immediate reply in the form of a 90m Michael Carroll solo effort tied up the game with 20 minutes remaining, while utility Duarne Dempsey was the grateful recipient of a Carroll offload to score what would be the match-winner.

The Cowboys moved to equal fourth on the National Youth Competition ladder with their ninth win, while the Panthers stay in second place behind front-runners Cronulla.

NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS NYC 24 (Jake Clifford, Nathan Traill, Michael Carroll, Duarne Dempsey tries; Clifford 4 goals) def PENRITH PANTHERS NYC 18 (Carl Winterstein, Dean Blore, Sam Martin Savage tries; Blore 3 goals) at 1300SMILES Stadium.

Acknowledgement of Country

North Queensland Cowboys respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.