NO Thurston. No Cronk. No worries.
That’s the view of Queensland’s Mr Fixit Michael Morgan as the Maroons prepare for life without the scrumbase legends who spearheaded the Origin dynasty created by Mal Meninga and upheld by coach Kevin Walters.
Entering his fourth Origin campaign in 2018, Morgan has become a key pillar in Queensland’s succession plan.
His first seven Origin games were off the bench, where the Maroons leveraged Morgan’s remarkable versatility to plug almost any hole in their starting side.
He finally started in his eighth game, this time answering an injury SOS at centre in last year’s decider as Queensland powered to a series-winning 22-6 rout of the Blues.
Now, with Queensland’s famous No.6 and No.7 jumpers officially vacant, Morgan believes he can do the job – in either jersey.
The 26-year-old has reason to be confident. At the Cowboys, he has served his apprenticeship forensically studying Thurston.
During last year’s World Cup, he stood beside Cronk, teaming with the champion Storm halfback to engineer Australia’s 6-0 defeat of England in the final at Suncorp Stadium.
Having been mentored by both Cronk and Thurston, who better to take the Maroons’ playmaking reins than Morgan?
“I’d love the opportunity to be there for Queensland and have the chance to be one of them,” he said.
“I know JT (Thurston) and Cooper have both been a huge part of the team for a number of years now, and a lot of the team’s success at times has come off the back of them.
“Whoever is there (in the Queensland halves), there will be a lot of expectation I guess and big shoes to fill.
“Before JT and Coops there were guys like Darren Lockyer, who was there for so long. I’m always happy to wear the Queensland jumper, but if they are looking at me in the halves, I’m comfortable with that.”
Morgan made his NRL debut way back in 2010 at the tender age of 18, but it took seven long years for the Cowboys dynamo to truly believe he could dominate at the top level.
The purple-patch breakthrough came at the back end of the 2017 season, when Morgan produced a remarkable form burst to inspire injury-ravaged North Queensland’s charge to the grand final.
The World Cup victory iced Morgan’s season.
Working with the likes of Cronk and Cameron Smith, also his skipper at Origin level, in the Australian set-up has given Morgan the self-belief to call the shots.
“I have got more confident,” he said.
“It’s easy to come into the Queensland and Australian teams in a way because there are so many good players around you, but at the same time that is a challenge as well.
“You are playing with players who are dominant at club level, so you don’t want to be overcalling someone or not calling for the ball at all because you don’t have the confidence to.
“I have got the balance better now than I have in the past.
“It’s only natural to doubt yourself when you are young. I haven’t been someone who gets ahead of myself. I don’t think I’m better than anyone.
“I was in and out of the Cowboys side for a couple of years and I had those doubts about whether I could make it at this level.
“But a few things influenced me (in 2017). Probably the biggest was some chats I had with Cooper in the Test team and also with JT before I went into Aussie camp for the World Cup.
“Cooper has been really good for me. I really enjoyed playing with him at the World Cup because he was happy for me to get the ball if I wanted it.
“He would also call shapes and structures for me to get the ball which was good and that gave me confidence knowing I could play what I see.”
As a kid, Morgan loved watching Maroons legend Lockyer. Now he has the chance to walk the path of his idol, and inspire the next generation of Queensland’s playmakers.
“Darren Lockyer was the No.1 guy that I looked up to,” he said.
“I just liked Locky’s approach. The Broncos were successful and he was the man for Queensland and Australia. He was always a calm guy on the field and I’ve tried to learn from that and play in the same manner.
“It’s nice to think I wore the same Australian jumper he wore, and I’d love to do it for Queensland. It would be pretty humbling actually.”