North Queensland Toyota Cowboys halfback Michael Morgan says the 34-6 NRL Telstra Grand Final defeat to Melbourne is a hard pill to swallow but hopes his side's season will not be defined by the heavy defeat.
Morgan and Cowboys teammate Jason Taumalolo have been the stories to come out of the finals series in 2017, but they ran into a Storm outfit on top of their game in the decider and out on a mission to contain the pair.
It proved mission accomplished for Craig Bellamy's side with Taumalolo managing just 124 metres in 59 minutes and Morgan constantly peppered by kick pressure led by Storm skipper Cameron Smith.
"This will hurt for a long time, it's not a great feeling," Morgan said following the result.
"To get here and play the way we did was disappointing. It's a learning curve for everyone in here. We were fortunate this group hadn't lost one before tonight.
"We were good enough to put ourselves in the position but weren't clinical enough and they certainly were. [Melbourne are] an extremely good football side with new players who buy into what they're doing.
"Well done to them, they've been by far the best team in the comp this year."
The 25-year-old admitted he prepared to be targeted more in the encounter than in recent weeks and felt the pressure from the opening stages of the clash.
"I knew it wasn't going to be easy and I'd be under the pump a fair bit with kicking and they certainly did that," Morgan said.
"[Cameron Smith] is a smart player and puts himself in a good position to do it. I knew it was coming and expected it going in.
"He did it for 80 minutes, he was always there. We had a word to each other once during the game – nothing serious – and I knew how that was going to be.
"I was put under the pump by a pretty good player. There were a couple of seven-tackle sets that I caused that I haven't in weeks so it hurts."
After finishing eighth and rated outsiders to advance past week one of the finals, Morgan felt a sense of achievement both individually and as a club throughout the season despite the grand final result.
The Kangaroos utility revealed conversations with opposition halfback Cooper Cronk and injured teammate Johnathan Thurston throughout the year have played a part in his own run of form.
"I've enjoyed the season and the last few weeks – no one else gave us a chance," Morgan said.
"I've said through this year I've been learning as I've been going. It was around that Test match time, we had a loss to Parramatta leading into the Test and it gave me a chance to go into that camp and have a think about my own game and how I was preparing – not only on but also off the field.
"It was a collective 'I need to pull my finger out' and take some responsibility [conversation].
"I feel like I did that. That's what the team will want of me, to be in games for a longer period of time. That was my biggest problem, when JT (Thurston) was out I would drift in and out of games.
"Whether we change that structure I'm not sure, Greeny (Cowboys coach Paul Green) is a smart coach."
Morgan is expected to be named in Australia's squad for the upcoming Rugby League World Cup and is eyeing off a halves position following the injury to Thurston.
He is set to chase a starting five-eighth spot with Sharks playmaker James Maloney also in contention.
"Hopefully I'm in the squad, I don't like to get too ahead of myself no matter the position I'm in," Morgan said.
"I had the opportunity to do it once in the Four Nations and I really enjoyed it.
"I'd love to start but being in the squad and playing each game for your country is a great feeling."
First published on NRL.com.