MICHAEL Morgan and Ashley Taylor are the future Maroons tipped to take the Origin playmaking baton from champion Queensland halves Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk.
That’s the view of Thurston himself and Queensland coach Kevin Walters, who admits the time has come for the Maroons to seriously assess their scrumbase options.
Since forging their alliance in 2012, Thurston and Cronk have steered Queensland to four series wins in five years.
But with the Cowboys maestro retiring from representative football after this year’s World Cup, the Queensland No.6 jumper will be vacant in 2018.
And with Cronk expected to follow Thurston into retirement 12 months later, the Maroons will confront their second scrumbase dilemma in consecutive campaigns.
Broncos duo Anthony Milford and Ben Hunt have been hailed by Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett as Queensland’s next long-term halves, but Walters has one eye on Taylor.
The 21-year-old claimed the NRL’s rookie-of-the-year crown last season and is firmly on Walters’ radar after being named in Queensland’s 2017 Emerging Origin squad.
“Ash Taylor is the next big thing for me,” Walters said.
“He’s playing some great football at the Titans and I really like the way in which Ash handled the pressure of first grade last season.
“He’s a young guy I’ve had an eye on for some time. I invited Ash to be part of our extended Origin squad last season (before Origin I), I wanted to give him a look at how things were done, but unfortunately he had to pull out due to injury.
“The best way to get these boys heads’ around what Origin is all about is watching the senior blokes doing it.
“That’s where they learn the most, watching Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston, particularly for someone like Ash Taylor.
“He fully deserved his selection in our Emerging squad and there’ll be other opportunities for Ash down the track.”
While Walters has a soft spot for the attacking brilliance of Milford, Thurston is adamant Morgan is the man to succeed him in the Queensland five-eighth role.
The Cowboys pivot made his Origin debut in 2015 and has played five matches off the bench for the Maroons.
Morgan has since broken into the Australian set-up and while Thurston may be biased given their Cowboys connection, he believes the 25-year-old has served his apprenticeship.
Asked who should succeed him in the Maroons team, Thurston said: “Michael Morgan is my first choice.
“He’s been on the bench and played the utility role for both Queensland and Australia.
“That said, we’ve got amazing depth in the halves both for Queensland and Australia. Michael Morgan can play six, but we’ve also got Anthony Milford and a few other guys who wouldn’t look out of place playing for either team.
“We’re just blessed to have so much depth.”
For now, Walters’ immediate focus is on the 2017 Origin campaign – his second year in charge.
The relief of a series win in his debut year, stepping out of the mighty Mal Meninga shadow, was palpable.
But the Blues are gradually mounting a revival.
Young gun Blues like James Tedesco are on the rise. Walters is wary of second-year syndrome.
“I’m always worried about the opposition,” he said. “I can’t control what NSW do but they are certainly working hard to turn things around.
“I always keep one eye on the Blues and I’m fully aware of what they are doing. Everyone knows they have a great wave of kids coming through so I’m nervous for sure this year … I never take anything for granted as Queensland coach.”