North Queensland are unwilling to grant halfback Jake Clifford an early release to Newcastle as the Cowboys try to come to terms with their own playmaker shortages.
Clifford has signed a deal to join the Knights in 2022 with the Novocastrians hoping he can secure an early release to fill a void in Mitchell Pearce’s absence.
Pearce will miss 10 weeks after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in Sunday’s loss to St George Illawarra.
This comes as Newcastle have at least 10 of their top 29 NRL-contracted players unavailable through injury or suspension.
When asked if the Cowboys would consider allowing Clifford to walk early, coach Todd Payten cited their own shortages in the halves with Michael Morgan’s future still unknown.
“It hasn’t been considered because last week we had to get an exemption to field Griffin Neame in our 21,” Payten said.
“I don’t think we’re going to leave ourselves short in that regard.”
The Cowboys will continue to be without Morgan who will see a specialist this week for an ongoing shoulder issue.
Poor form to start 2021 means Clifford will watch his second consecutive game from the sidelines, with Scott Drinkwater and Ben Hampton the halves named to face the Tigers.
Payten says Clifford has taken being dropped in his stride and is still seeking to improve his game.
“He’s been good. Jake’s been good, you know he took it on the chin,” he said.
“He’s turned up every day still trying to get better. So I can only compliment the kid in the way he’s approached being dropped.”
North Queensland have also been linked with a few notable off-contract halfbacks in recent weeks should Morgan be forced into retirement, one of them being South Sydney star Adam Reynolds.
Reynolds, 30, is in negotiations to remain at Souths.
He wants a three-year deal but the club is only willing to offer a contract for one season.
When asked if the Cowboys are attempting to sign the Rabbitohs playmaker, Payten dismissed the claim stating there isn’t any interest in bringing him to Townsville for the moment.