Toyota Cowboys coach Paul Green says Michael Morgan’s previous NRL experience was one of the deciding factors when it came to settling on a fullback for North Queensland’s season opener against Canberra at 1300SMILES Stadium on Saturday night.
Better known as a halfback/five-eighth, Morgan has been named in the No.1 jersey ahead of NYC graduate Zac Santo after both impressed during the pre-season trials and NRL Auckland Nines.
Santo has been included on a six-man bench but is unlikely to move into the final 17 and instead will gain valuable experience in being part of the build-up to an NRL match.
The coach was left looking for a new fullback after first choice Lachlan Coote suffered a serious knee injury in the Nines and was sidelined for a minimum of six months.
Another fullback option, Wayne Ulugia, was released by the club for breaches of the players’ code of conduct earlier this year.
“Michael’s got a little bit more experience than Zac,” Green said today.
“Zac had a really good pre-season though and he performed well in the trials so he’s certainly showed he’s up to it at some stage.
“I think Michael’s probably a safer option from an experience point of view.”
Morgan has made 31 NRL appearances since making his debut as an 18-year-old in 2010 but was restricted to just nine top-grade appearances, all in the starting halves, in 2013.
A strong runner of the ball, good defensively and with the advantage of having the passing skills he has developed in the halves, he looms as a weapon in a starting Cowboys backline which has just one other change from the seven who played in last year’s final series – Kyle Feldt returns on the wing as Ulugia’s replacement.
In the forward pack, Ray Thompson has earned the No.9 jersey while Jason Taumalolo is set to start in the back-row with Gavin Cooper and Joel Riethmuller.
“I think Ray finished the season really well when the team was going well,” Green said of Thompson’s 2013 performances before he copped a double break to his jaw.
“He’s had a really good pre-season and he adds another attacking point for us coming out of hooker.
“He deserves first chance there.”
Noted defender Rory Kostjasyn, who showcased his running game in the Nines, has gained the nod as the back-up dummy-half ahead of Cameron King, who was man of the match for the Northern Pride at the weekend, and Nines squad member Anthony Mitchell.
The Cowboys held their first on-field training session of the week in showery conditions at 1300SMILES Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.