CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 17: Jake Clifford of the Cowboys scores a try during the NRL trial match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Wests Tigers at Barlow Park on February 17, 2018 in Cairns, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

New Cowboys coach Todd Payten has admitted that playmaker Jake Clifford’s link to Newcastle before a sudden backflip wasn’t handled well by the club, but has made it known that Clifford will be apart of the teams plans in 2021.

With the Cowboys interest in West Tigers star Benji Marshall who plays the same role as Clifford, it was reported that Clifford asked to be released from the Cowboys for more opportunity.

With the Cowboys unable to meet the demands of Marshall, the club backflipped on their decision to allow Clifford to end his contract a year early and opted to hold the 22-year old for the last year of his contract.

Newcastle tried luring Clifford to the club again this week, but ultimately resigned to Clifford remaining as a Cowboy in 2021.

Payten said he had a meeting with Clifford and believes both parties are now on the right track.

“The whole Jake Clifford scenario wasn’t handled well by our club, and I played a small part in that,” Payten told The Cairns Post.

“But we’ve had a sit-down meeting with Jake, his father and his manager last week and he’ll be with us this year.

“And, if things go to plan the way I want them to go, he’ll be here for a long time.”

Clifford has only made the 35 appearances for the Cowboys since 2018, and was labelled as the heir to Jonathan Thurston, but so far the playmaker hasn’t been able to replicate the hype on-field.

Payten said Clifford needs to step up and improve to earn a regular spot in the Cowboys line-up.

“He needs to improve, but he’s not on his own in that regard,” Payten said.

“I’ve made it pretty clear in the areas that I need him to improve in and he’s given his assurance that he’s here to dig in and really work hard at improving his game and get a spot.”

Cowboys captain Michael Morgan said he was happy Clifford would be remaining at the club for another year.

“I know there’s been talk going on about him leaving, and it was probably a situation where neither party really wanted it to go the way it did, but it’s good that it looks like he is going to stay,” he said.

“I’ve spoken to him a couple of times just to ask how he’s going with it all and he wants to stay and I know that Toddy and the club want him to stay, so for Cliffo to know that is a good thing and I hope that he’s part of our team next year.

“I know that he enjoys playing halfback and if he gets the No.7 jersey then that’s good for him and it’s good for the club. If that’s where he wants to be, I hope he’s playing well.”