Contenders: Halves

We're profiling the contenders for each position within the Cowboys' ranks for the 2014 NRL season – here are head coach Paul Green’s chief options for the halves roles.

JOHNATHAN THURSTON

Now a two-time winner of the Golden Boot as rugby league’s world player of the year, Thurston is entering his 10th season with the Cowboys seemingly in the prime of his career.

He won four man-of-the-match awards in five appearances at the Rugby League World Cup as the Kangaroos reclaimed the trophy from the Kiwis and NQ would love to see that form from round one in 2014.

A premiership with the Cowboys is the only thing missing from his incredible career record that will have him as a contender to join the Immortals once he retires from football.

This year he is without his chief sidekick in attack, Matthew Bowen, and he’ll be looking to quickly establish a combination with the expected new number one Lachlan Coote.

It will be interesting to see what changes in his game, if anything, under a new coach.

ROBERT LUI

After missing all of season 2012, and then playing only once in the first nine rounds last year, Lui eventually established himself in the Cowboys’ No.7 jersey.

He played 16 matches, including all six in the end-of-season winning streak, to take his career tally past the 50 mark.

With six linebreak assists, he was second in the club behind Thurston (18), while his try assists tally of four was much less than would be expected from a player with his talent.

With an uninterrupted pre-season this time, and the benefit of the experience and knowledge he gained at the end of last year, he should be one of the Cowboys’ big improvers in 2014.

RAY THOMPSON

After being Thurston’s halves partner for a clear majority of matches in 2011 and 2012, it was at hooker that Thompson spent most of his time in 2013 – and it’s likely to be that way again this year.

Last season, the PNG World Cup representative wore the No.7 in rounds one and two, and again in round nine, but he was at dummy-half the rest of the way until a double fracture to his jaw ended his NRL campaign in round 24.

Thompson has spent most of pre-season training in the hooker role, but would be more than ready to feature in the halves if required.

With 29.1 tackles per game, he was in the top three in defence for NQ in 2013.

MICHAEL MORGAN

Recently turned 22, Morgan has now played 31 NRL matches and is eager to take that next step and become a regular in the Cowboys’ first 17.

Last year, he took on the No.7 job five times in the first eight rounds and then twice more when Johnathan Thurston was on State of Origin duties.

Most of his season was spent in the Intrust Super Cup where he finished the year in the centres, showcasing his strong running game in the Mackay Cutters’ grand final victory against Easts.

His spectacular run down the sideline followed by a horizontal dive into the corner for a try was one of game’s major highlights.

Off-season shoulder and ankle surgery has limited his training time in pre-season and he’s likely to need a bit of time before pressing for an NRL call-up this year.

Other options: Anthony Mitchell, Lachlan Coote, Rory Kostjasyn.