COWBOYS skipper Michael Morgan admits he is not a selection untouchable for the Maroons, saying North Queensland’s form this season will have a bearing on whether he is recalled to the Origin arena.
Morgan has been a member of the Queensland set-up since 2015, having compiled 12 appearances from five consecutive campaigns and featuring in all three games for the Maroons in their 2-1 series loss to NSW last season.
But despite his longevity in Camp Maroon, Morgan is taking nothing for granted.
It is a mentality that stems from his struggles at NRL level over the past two years as frustrating injuries and inconsistent form plagued him in the post-Johnathan Thurston era.
When Morgan expertly led the Cowboys to the 2017 grand final, Queensland coach Kevin Walters was so impressed he rated the Townsville product a serious contender for a Maroons halves berth the following year.
It is a measure of Morgan’s slide that he has gone from being the front-runner to wear the Queensland No.7 jumper, to a centre spot, to being relegated to the bench for last year’s Origin decider.
After two disappointing club campaigns, the Cowboys are under pressure to hit back in 2020 and their main man Morgan accepts his Maroons prospects will hinge on leading a northern revival.
“I would love to be back in the Origin arena again,” Morgan said.
“My time in that great Queensland team is always enjoyable. It’s always a special feeling going into camps and I never take that jumper for granted.
“But I know it’s important for myself and the Cowboys to be going well first. Hopefully we can have a good season at the Cowboys and that puts me back in Origin contention for another season.”
Morgan emerged as Queensland’s Mr Fixit last season.
With the Maroons’ centre stocks lacking in genuine depth, coach Walters turned to the versatile Morgan, who wore the No.3 jumper in the opening two games of the series.
It was a daunting assignment.
Morgan held his own in Game 1, but his confidence took a hit after the man he marked in Origin II, NSW gun Tom Trbojevic, scored a hat-trick in the Blues’ 38-6 thumping of the Maroons in Perth.
For the decider, Morgan was named at left centre, but was demoted to the bench at the 11th hour, with Walters calling on super-sub Moses Mbye to start in his place.
While Walters hasn’t lost faith in Morgan, the Cowboys maestro has not been as dominant in recent times, his confidence not helped by abdominal and bicep injuries which prematurely ended his 2018 season.
Morgan has heard the whispers he is missing his champion sidekick Thurston. The 28-year-old is keen to fight back this season.
“I want to get back to my 2017 form,” he says.
“I haven’t really felt that pressure to replace ‘JT’. A lot of people talk, saying I have struggled since JT left. But it’s only been one season since he retired. I’m actually at ease with playing without JT.
“But there’s no doubt I have suffered a bit from the whole snowball effect of two poor seasons (by the Cowboys).
“I missed the majority of 2018 with injuries, and last year I was up and down with form.
“Whether it was frustration at the season or trying too hard to create opportunities that maybe weren’t there, when your season is up and down, it affects your personal form.
“I still believe I can get better. I haven’t reached my peak. My issue has been finding that consistency and that’s something you always strive for as a player.
“It’s extremely important the Cowboys have a good year, myself included.”
Morgan says he is inspired, rather than burdened, by the Cowboys captaincy.
“It was a challenge last year, but I still enjoyed the captaincy,” he said. “I have learned a lot from the captaincy.
“I certainly feel comfortable being the main guy. It was more difficult at times last year, but I haven’t lost my self-belief to take control of matches like I did in our run to the grand final in 2017.”