Cowboys pivot Johnathan Thurston may be nervous ahead of Saturday’s NRL season opener against Canberra but the heat is on new fullback Michael Morgan.
If you thought Johnathan Thurston was nervous ahead of his NRL re-match with Josh Papalii’s Canberra in Townsville on Saturday night, spare a thought for his North Queensland teammate Michael Morgan.
Thurston may be one of the world’s best players but he will be forgiven for running out an anxious man in the Cowboys’ season opener after Papalii all but promised a repeat of his 2013 battering of the North Queensland pivot.
Raiders wrecking ball Papalii gleefully steamrolled Queensland colleague Thurston to set up Canberra’s round 17 win the last time the two teams met, bringing a new meaning to Origin’s “mate against mate” motto.
While Papalii has not backed down this week from repeating the punishment in the NRL season opener, Morgan would arguably be the North Queensland player sweating the most on Saturday night.
Morgan will attempt to fill the big shoes initially left by Cowboys favourite son Matt Bowen when he runs out as the unlikely choice as North Queensland fullback.
Lachlan Coote had been poached from Penrith to become Cowboys No.1 after North Queensland games record holder Bowen left for England in the off-season.
But a last-minute vacancy was created when Coote went down with a knee injury early at the recent Auckland Nines.
Still, few would have picked Morgan – a former halfback, five-eighth, back-up hooker and sometime centre for North Queensland since his 2010 NRL debut – to fill the void.
It appeared to be new Cowboys coach Paul Green’s first gamble – but co-captain Matt Scott backed the bold call.
“I love the idea,” Test prop Scott said.
“As bad as the injury was for Cootey – terrible news for him – this might be the little chance that Morgs has been looking for.
“He’s been in and out of the position of half, not really cementing a spot there, and he’s come out and shown a real talent at fullback.
“He’s taken to it really easily.”
Morgan has been pummelled by high balls at training in a taste of things to come from a Canberra attack led by hulking pivot Terry Campese.
Scott was also confident Thurston had nothing to worry about despite the looming Papalii juggernaut.
He said young backrower Jason Taumalolo would be the perfect bodyguard on the left edge for Thurston after forcing Tariq Sims out of the starting pack thanks to a pre-season sparked by the club’s stunning Nines tournament triumph.
“I think the Nines was a great stepping stone for him,” Scott said.
“He gained a lot of confidence out of that and I think playing on that left edge with Johnno is really going to see him come along as a player.”