JOHNATHAN Thurston says Michael Morgan’s State of Origin apprenticeship is over and has demanded his Cowboys clubmate be the first player picked at the Queensland scrumbase this season.
Maroons coach Kevin Walters is on the hunt for a new halves pairing for the 2018 campaign following the dual representative retirements of Thurston and halfback Cooper Cronk.
Walters is offering no guarantees, calling for Queensland’s posse of playmaking hopefuls – including Morgan, Daly Cherry-Evans, Anthony Milford, Cameron Munster and Corey Norman – to earn their Origin spurs this season.
While Morgan has played eight Origin games across three series, he has never started in the halves, featuring off the bench seven times before his starting debut at centre in the decider last year.
But in the wake of his superb finals campaign and World Cup tournament last season, Morgan, according to Thurston, must be installed as Queensland’s No.1 shot caller for the 2018 series.
“He has done enough to earn a starting position,” Thurston said.
“Kevvie (Walters) just needs to see where he wants to play Morgo, whether it’s halfback or five-eighth, then look for another player to support him.
“We’ve seen what ‘Morgo’ has been capable of doing when he took our club to the grand final last year playing halfback.
“He is comfortable playing in the halves and he has played a lot of football alongside ‘Smithy’ (Queensland and Test skipper Cameron Smith).”
Munster is Queensland’s five-eighth incumbent after his outstanding debut in Origin III last season, but some off-field issues during Australia’s World Cup campaign has raised concerns about his attitude.
Morgan, by comparison, had a superior finish to 2017, steering the Cowboys to the NRL grand final before edging out Munster for Australia’s No.6 jumper in the World Cup final.
Walters insists he is not deeply worried about Munster’s off-field preparation, but concedes the Storm pivot must uphold the standards expected of an Origin player.
“Cameron has to be a good ambassador for Queensland, certainly,” Walters said.
“When the time comes to select the team, part of being selected for Queensland is that responsibility to the jumper. Cameron did that last year and I have no reason to think he won’t do it again if selected.
“I have no concerns around Cameron. The system he is in at Melbourne, he has a great coaching staff and good senior players around him to help get the best out of him.
“It’s a big year for all our halves (in the Queensland Origin system).
“We’ll be picking the team on form. This is the chance for someone to put their hand up.
“I’ll certainly be looking at Michael Morgan. He showed at the back end of the year with the Cowboys what he can do in the No.7 jumper, but he can also play five-eighth.
“It all depends how they start the new season. It’s important guys are playing well at the right time.”