Change the game and move forward
By Joel Gould, NRL.com
Michael Morgan and Johnathan Thurston are now both dominant, match-winning halves in their own right.
That is why the younger man of the duo says finding the right balance will be the key to their reunification at the Cowboys in 2018.
In Thurston’s injury-enforced absence last season, Morgan stepped up to take control of the team as the Cowboys surged into the grand final.
With Thurston back, the balancing act will be finding a way for the pair to work together in a manner that benefits the team and allows both men to express their many and varied talents.
They have done it before with great success and there is no reason to suppose anything will change. In their 2015 Telstra Premiership success, Morgan and Lachlan Coote played complementary roles as playmakers, with Thurston the central figure.
Even Morgan was intrigued when asked how his partnership with Thurston in the halves would unfold, while making it clear he had no intention of playing a secondary role if it meant his game went backwards.
“The way we have been playing the last couple of years is that the halfback got the ball a lot more and is a lot more involved,” Morgan said after returning to Cowboys pre-season training.
“That led on from the year I had at fullback [in 2014], where we fell back [in 2015] to the role where JT was the main half and we had myself and Cootey either side and playing that out the back, sweeping role.
“I don’t know if there is going to be one main, dominant person or whether we will share it around a bit…but I don’t want my game to go backwards and lose what I built on last year.
“I want to move forward and get better as a player, and I am sure Greeny [coach Paul Green] is all for that as well.
“JT's personality as a player is to always be on the ball and want the ball. Because he is fit he can do that and while he is doing that you don’t want to get in his way.
“It is just about getting that balance I think and the more we work on it through this pre-season the better we will be.”
With Thurston and Matt Scott returning from injury and Storm premiership winner Jordan McLean joining the club, the Cowboys are favourites to win the competition in many pundits’ books.
Morgan, who said he was feeling fresh both mentally and physically following a break after Australia’s World Cup final win, said the club’s own ambitions would ensure no complacency set in.
“Internally we have high expectations of ourselves, but we are not going to be just … buying into us being favourites and it is just going to happen,” he said.
“I remember in 2016 after we won it we were strong favourites to go back-to-back but we started that year slower than we would have liked and never really hit where we wanted to be.
“It was the complete opposite last year where no-one gave us a chance so we had no pressure at all on us.”
Morgan hasn’t been back at pre-season training for long, but indicated there may well be several changes in the way the Cowboys play in the upcoming season.
“You always want to be changing your game as a team. If you stay the same for too long you end up going backwards,” he said.
“That is what Greeny is good at, continually working to change the game to improve and move forward as a team.
“A few things we did today were a bit different to what we did last year so hopefully I can get used to that pretty quickly.”