NYC Cowboys v Raiders
3.10pm, Saturday 1 July, GIO Stadium
A repeat of the "professional brand of footy" played against the National Youth Competition’s benchmark side is what North Queensland Toyota Cowboys Under-20s coach Aaron Payne is chasing as the team heads to the nation’s capital this weekend.
Coming off what Payne described as his team’s best performance of 2017 – where they downed two-time NYC champions and age-group behemoths Penrith – the young Cowboys must now back that effort up on an expected chilly Canberra afternoon against an unpredictable Raiders team spearheaded by a monster forward pack.
“We beat Penrith at their own game last weekend, and it’s something we talked about beforehand, so that was hugely pleasing,” Payne said.
“They usually have high completion rates and rely on opposition errors; that was us for that game on Saturday.
"It was a similar performance to the Storm game the week before; the difference was against the Panthers, we got our defence right.”
Payne says that the Raiders present a different challenge, where they rely a lot on offloads, second-phase play and keeping the footy alive.
“Our contact in tackles needs to be good and we need to find ways to combat the power game that they try to play,” he said.
Payne will take a largely unchanged team into the match, with the side to be led around the park by in-form halfback Jake Clifford and the steadying hand of captain and five-eighth Mitch Dunn.
Clifford had a whale of a game against the Panthers, setting up tries, creating his own and providing on-field leadership and calmness not always seen at Under-20s level.
The Tully teenager was recently awarded a National Rugby League contract with the Cowboys for the 2018-19 seasons, and on Saturday gave Cowboys fans a glimpse of what the future may hold.
“I’m not shocked by his competitiveness on the field and how he puts himself in the game, but I have been pleasantly surprised at the rate of improvement he’s made in things like controlling a game and making good decisions under pressure,” Payne said.
“BJ (Cowboys NYC assistant Ben Jeffries) has been doing a lot of work with our halves on these aspects of the game. Also, Mitchy Dunn has been a real steadying influence out there which has helped Cliffo out tremendously."
Payne also singled out hard-running centre Kurt Wiltshire for praise, the Central Queensland product receiving club man-of-the-match awards the past two games, thanks to lung-busting efforts where he carried for over 200m each time, more often than not out of yardage.
The second-year mentor admitted he had some tough selection decisions to make in the coming weeks with the imminent return to fitness of strike centre Enari Tuala (broken jaw).
The NYC Cowboys take on the young Raiders on Saturday from 3.10pm at GIO Stadium, the match part of a triple-header at the ground.
Join the Southern Stampede in Bay 73 at GIO Stadium to cheer on the boys!